As President Obama makes his final push to get health care reform through Congress, he is "seizing on a report showing that market concentration for health insurance is so monopolized that insurance companies are willing to raise prices and lose customers in an effort to help their bottom line," HuffPost's Sam Stein reported.
The insurance industry is not taking this lying down. The Associated Press reports:
Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, said insurance industry workers "do not deserve to be vilified for political purposes. ... For every dollar spent on health care in America, less than one penny goes toward health plan profits. The focus needs to be on the other 99 cents." AHIP plans to spend more than $1 million to run television ads on cable stations nationwide beginning in the next few days to push back on the attacks on insurers.
Obama has long identified the insurance industry as an obstacle to changes along the lines he seeks, but the administration's actions and rhetoric seem to have escalated in recent days.
The president's proposal would give the government the right to limit excessive premium increases - a provision included after one firm announced a 39 percent increase in the price of individual policies sold in California. Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, convened a White House meeting with insurance executives last week, and followed up with a letter released in advance of Obama's speech.
It asks companies to "post on your Web sites the justification for any individual or small group rate increases you have implemented or proposed in 2010."
Talking Points Memo notes that the new AHIP campaign "comes as the group kicks off a two-day 'policy conference' in downtown D.C."
In her opening remarks at the conference, which began this morning and runs through tomorrow, AHIP CEO Karen Ignagni said her industry still sees itself as a partner in health care reform. But she said growing criticism of recent controversial rate hikes by insurance companies are not helping to move the debate over reform forward.
"Our industry strongly supports health care reform because we recognize that the current system is unsustainable," Ignagni said. "The current debate about rising premiums has demonstrated that, in fact, we have a health care cost crisis in this country. Unfortunately, the path that has been followed is one of vilification rather than problem solving."
Not to be outdone, the pro-reform group Health Care for America now also has a new ad hitting the airwaves. Watch it below (we'll post AHIP's ad when it's posted online):
Reform groups are also gathering to protest AHIP's summit in DC today.
Vowing to engage in civil disobedience, a number of progressive and union-backed groups are planning to protest the Washington, D.C., event sponsored by America's Health Insurance Plans.
Health Care for America Now, a major underwriter of the campaign to support President Barack Obama's health care reform effort, is organizing the event to draw attention to the insurance industry, which it argues has been driving up insurance rates while opposing Congressional efforts to overhaul the health care system.
Protesters are scheduled to march from Dupont Circle to the hotel on 22nd Street, where they are promising to engage in street theater that includes making symbolic "citizen arrests" of insurance company executives.