Health insurer enlisting its employees to kill reform
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This year's debate is different from the efforts in the 1990s to reform health care. This time, the health insurance industry says they support health reform. But their actions don't always match their public statements.
On the front page of their trade association's website, the American Health Insurance Plan, the text reads "Supporting bi-partisan reforms."
An advertisement from AHIP reinforces that sentiment.
The ad says "Let's fix health care" and "supporting bi-partisan reforms that Congress can build on."
That last phrase, "supporting bi-partisan reforms Congress can build on" is telling. It indicates they are not on board with the current proposal.
And although insurance companies puts on a positive public face, behind the scenes they are working to defeat aspects of reform.
One employee from Health Net, a nationwide health insurer, reveals the company's tactics. She wanted to remain anonymous for this story.
"We have a government relations person that keeps us updated as to what the House is doing, what the Senate is doing, [and] what path they‘re trying to go on."
The employee also told FSRN that "upper management is really encouraging associates to think for themselves and make sure their opinion is heard."
Her company, Health Net is one of the largest publicly traded health insurers. They employ nearly 10,000 people.
The company has an internal intranet site for Health Net workers. This employee says it includes a section titled "Make Sure Your Voices are Heard."
It is filled with arguments describing potential pitfalls of a public option.
Reading from the site, she said it talks about "violating the shared commitment to ensure that those who like their coverage can keep it." It also mentions "exacerbating the cost shift to individuals and families."
She also says the internal site claims the individual will have to pick up more of the cost to cover underpayments to Medicare and Medicaid. And it says with a public option, the US health system would become like Canada's government-run system, which is poorly perceived by some Americans.
The company is giving selective information to its employees. According to this employee, the intranet site does not provide any positive aspects of the public option. With this limited information, Health Net encourages employees to call their members of Congress and attend town halls to voice their position.
Brad Keiffer, spokesperson for Health Net, confirmed that the company has an internal web site that provides information about the health care debate. He also said Health Net is being responsive to their employees by talking to them about the issue.
"There is such great interest that our associates are asking us about our position so they may be informed," Keiffer said.
The company is a government contractor; in addition to private insurance, it also provides Medicare, Medicaid and Veterans coverage. In the last quarter, the company made $50 million. But that is small change compared to the $850 million the largest private health insurer, United Health Group, made last quarter. The stakes of a public option are high dollar for health insurance companies.
Wendell Potter worked for two insurance companies from 1989 until 2008. He left last year and became a whistleblower. "The first people they try to influence are their own employees," he said.
This is not the only tactic health insurance companies are using to defeat aspects of health reform.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the health insurance industry spent more than $16 million on lobbying during the first half of this year. That’s $1.5 million more dollars more than the first half of last year. They have also increased their campaign contributions, especially to moderate Democrats who are key to passing legislation.
Roger Hickey, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, said the health insurance companies are "deploying lots of lobbyists not only to influence the White House but also to try to influence the votes in Congress."
The public option has been the most contentious. Media reports suggest that President Obama might drop the public option to move reform forward.