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AHIP: Health Care Reform's Ultimate Frenemy

First Posted: 03/18/10 06:12 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 03:25 PM ET

For months now, the lobbyists for America's Health Insurance Plans have been publicly expressing support for the Democratic health-care reform bill -- at least in its broad strokes.

And yet, it didn't come as such a big surprise really on Thursday morning when a top lobbyist for AHIP urged Republicans in Congress not to support Democratic reform proposals because doing so would be "giving comfort to the enemy who is down." Steve Champlin, a lobbyist for the Duberstein Group, which represents AHIP, made those comments at an AHIP conference.

The only real surprise was that he was so blunt -- and in public.

The Huffington Post asked AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach if Champlin was speaking for AHIP.

"Absolutely not," Zirkelbach replied. "[AHIP president Karen Ignagni] was very clear in her own speech today that health plans strongly support comprehensive, bipartisan health care reform."

Ignagni, for her part, called Champlin and his co-panelist Dan Meyer "two of the best folks in Washington in terms of ability to give insightful analysis and talk about where we are."

Earlier this year, AHIP took pains to appear as cooperative as possible. Back in March, "the enemy" provided a keynote speaker for AHIP's National Policy Forum. Ignagni gave a glowing introduction for White House budget boss Peter Orszag, saying, "Peter, you've changed the health care dialogue and enlarged it."

And during the Q&A that followed Orszag's remarks, which largely concerned comparative effectiveness research, Ignagni stressed, "I don't mean to be negative in any way about the members of Congress" who would be working out reforms.

"We are going to continue to work with you and your fantastic team," said Ignagni before Orszag left. "On behalf of everybody in the audience that is working very hard ... you have our commitment that we will continue to do that."

From there, AHIP engaged with the White House and ran fuzzy ads supporting reform.

Now the group is working against specific measures moving through Congress with reports that fail fact-check tests and ads designed to scare seniors.

In her speech Thursday, Ignagni explained that as the year has progressed and reforms have moved through Congress, AHIP has become increasingly concerned about cost containment. She criticized additional fees on insurers, pharmaceutical companies, and device manufacturers, and said Congress had shifted its focus to cost containment only within Medicare.

Then Champlin shared his insights.

Was he speaking from off the reservation -- or from the heart?

"There is absolutely no interest, no reason Republicans should ever vote for this thing. They have gone from a party that got killed 11 months ago to a party that is rising today. And they are rising up on the turmoil of health care," Champlin said. "So when they vote for a health care reform bill, whatever it is, they are giving comfort to the enemy who is down."

Champlin is a former Democratic hand turned lobbyist. AHIP spent $2.4 million lobbying the government in the third quarter.

With reporting by Sam Stein

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