SEBELIUS STANDS TALL AGAINST INSURERS…. America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) extended an 11th-hour invitation to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, asking her to speak to the industry trade association’s annual policy conference.

To her credit, Sebelius accepted, and made no real effort to play nice with the industry that has tried everything to kill health care reform.

Instead of attacking the president’s proposal, Ms. Sebelius said, insurers should use their assets, their influence and their bully pulpit to win approval for the legislation in Congress. […]

Ms. Sebelius complained that “over the last year, we have seen tens of millions of dollars, by the insurance industry, spent on ads and lobbyists to help kill health reform.”

The secretary said she could not understand such efforts, because Mr. Obama was not trying to “eliminate the private insurance market and go to some kind of single-payer system like Europe or Canada.” Indeed, the president’s proposal would provide hundreds of billions of dollars in tax credits to help moderate-income people buy private health insurance.

Ms. Sebelius, a former governor and insurance commissioner in Kansas, sounded exasperated at the pace of change. “How many years in a row can we have the same discussion over and over?” Ms. Sebelius asked. “How many years can we look at a marketplace which is getting more segmented and more difficult? How much pressure can be put on the remaining customers before the business model collapses of its own weight?”

Sebelius went on to explain that health insurers — the single most disliked institution in the entire debate — have a choice. The industry can continue to do what it’s been doing, investing obscene sums in dishonest attack ads, and hoping to convince those who stand to benefit from reform not to trust the life-preserver Democrats are trying to throw to them.

Or, the HHS secretary said, insurers can make a different choice: “You can choose to take the millions of dollars you have stored away for your next round of ads to kill meaningful reform, and use them to start giving Americans some relief from their skyrocketing premiums.”

That, of course, won’t happen. Today’s industry profits must be used to destroy anything that might interfere with tomorrow’s industry profits. (“Dear customers, sorry we had to jack up your premiums, but we needed your money to finance our campaign to destroy the reform package that would help you more than us.”)

But I was glad to see Sebelius take a firm line with insurers anyway. Sometimes, when major establishment types get together in a setting like this, there’s a temptation to play nice, be polite, and suggest the differences aren’t so great.

Sebelius didn’t bother with the facade. Good for her — with the industry poised to drop another $1 million in attack ads, the insurers don’t deserve the niceties.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.