John Byrne | the raw story | August 24, 2009
Memo tells employees to keep a low profile
A spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s trade group, admitted in an article published Monday that as many as 50,000 industry employees are involved in an effort to fight back against aggressive healthcare reform.
The admission, published in the last sentence of a Wall Street Journal article, highlights the stakes of potential healthcare reform for the private health insurance industry. Insurers and investors alike are terrified at the prospect of a so-called “public option,” which would create a government-run health insurance program to compete with private insurers. Because the government plan wouldn’t have to earn a profit, the plan would be able to undercut the premiums of private firms, pressuring profit margins.
“The health-insurance industry is sending thousands of its employees to town-hall meetings and other forums during Congress’s August recess to try to counter a tide of criticism directed at the insurers and remain a player — and not an outsider — in the debate over the future of the health-care system,” the Journal’s Vanessa Fuhrmans and Avery Johnson wrote Monday.
Employees of the health insurers have also been given talking points that encourage them to keep a low profile and avoid taking “the bait” when the industry is criticized in public, the reporters say. The industry’s trade group drafted a “Town Hall Tips” memo that instructs employees to stay calm and not to yell at members of Congress.
The industry’s staff have also been encouraged to write their local representatives.
Health insurers are trying to reshape the debate over the public option by fighting back against charges that they’re enjoying record profits at consumers’ expense. Most private insurers enjoy a four to six percent profit margin, which is less than many other industries, but, all told, amounts to billions and billions of dollars.
Karen Ignagni, America’s Health Insurance Plans’ chief lobbyist, says that town hall meetings are a chance for employees “to strongly push back against charges that we have very high profits.”
“It’s very important that our men and women… calmly provide the facts and for members of Congress to hear what these people do every day,” Ignagni added.
Insurers have also been trying to convince the public that they’re well-intentioned. They’ve agreed to dispense with policies that prevent patients with pre-existing conditions from getting coverage and stop marking up policies based on gender. But they’ve agreed to this only on the condition that Congress mandate health insurance coverage for all Americans, which would add tens of millions of new customers to insurers’ pools.