An unexpected hand for reform advocates

AN UNEXPECTED HAND FOR REFORM ADVOCATES…. This week, a couple of conservative hosts on the Fox Business Channel seemed deeply concerned about premium rate hikes from California’s Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield. They weren’t troubled by what the increases would mean for consumers — they were concerned that the increased burden on Americans might make health care reform more likely to happen.

Interviewing an executive from health insurance giant WellPoint, which owns Anthem, Fox’s Charles Payne suggested the company should have decided to “wait for this [reform push] to blow over and maybe a year from now try to hike rates.”

The industry, however, isn’t waiting, and those with individual policies — folks who buy insurance that their employers aren’t providing — are getting hit the hardest.

Health insurers across the country are dramatically increasing rates and slashing benefits for many of the estimated 17 million consumers with individual insurance policies, while making it almost impossible to obtain affordable alternatives. […]

Rate increases by insurance companies are a fact of life for the nation’s insured, but sharp hikes this year in California have provoked a national outcry that has brought criticism from President Obama and prompted investigations in Sacramento and Washington.

A spokesperson for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s lobbying arm, conceded, “The market is broken.”

Think about that. The voice of private health insurers is willing to admit, on the record, that the market-based system that’s currently in place — and which Republicans are intent on leaving intact — is simply “broken.”

Kevin Drum explained that the fix is hardly elusive.

Look: if the chief flack for the health insurance industry says the market is broken, then you have to believe that the market is broken. And it won’t fix itself, either. Despite what Republicans pretend to believe when they’re in front of the cameras, the way to correct this isn’t to deregulate further, allowing insurance companies to raise rates even more freely. It’s to broaden the insurance pool by mandating guaranteed issue so that no one gets turned down for a policy; enforcing community rating so that everyone pays a fair price; creating an individual mandate so that healthy people can’t game the system by buying insurance only when they get sick; and establishing federal subsidies so that low-income families can afford the premiums. And guess what? That’s what the current bill in Congress does.

There can be little doubt that the right will flip out, not only because they oppose solutions to the problem, but also because they’ve convinced themselves that the fight is over — and that they won.

I’m still skeptical about whether reform can actually come together in the end, but if it does, and the right is wondering how the package managed to make a comeback, they may want to reflect on the significance of insurers’ poorly-timed greed.