President Obama's announcement yesterday began the final chapter in the 14-month war over health care reform. The decisive battle will obviously take place on the floor of Congress. But the most symbolically powerful battle may take place next week some miles from the Capitol, at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on the edge of Washington's tony Georgetown neighborhood.
That's where executives from America's health care industry will gather under the banner of AHIP (America's Health Insurance Plans) to plot - and then execute - a last-ditch attempt to defeat health insurance reform.
That's also where, on Tuesday, March 9th, thousands of demonstrators from Health Care for America Now (HCAN) and allied groups will mass to confront the insurance executives - and their attempts to effectively deny quality health care to millions of Americans.
The term "battle" is entirely appropriate. The insurance executives who run America's health insurance companies are, in fact, waging war on the American public. Their goal is the continued domination of the American health care system. They want to be able to continue to raise their rates more than three times faster than wages - and twice as fast as the underlying cost of health care - so they can continue to gorge themselves with record profits. They want to continue to siphon off the healthiest, wealthiest customers and deny access to insurance for anyone with a "pre-existing condition" or illness.
Just like all wars, their war on the American family costs tens of thousands of lives and untold suffering. Each year, the lack of health insurance costs 45,000 lives. In other words, each year we lose 80% as many Americas to insurance industry greed as died in the entire Vietnam War.
What's worse, these insurance executives don't get a first-hand look at the suffering and death that results from their policies, or their attempts to block reform. They manage their war from pristine office towers. They don't have to look into the eyes of a husband whose wife has just died of cancer that could have been cured if it were caught early - but went undetected because for financial reasons she had no insurance and kept putting off a routine check up.
They don't have to face the family who lost their home -- and everything else -- to bankruptcy because an uninsured medical emergency wiped out the fruits of decades of hard work.
They don't have to explain themselves to the millions of Americas who worry they are just one pink slip away from losing their insurance coverage and know that a spouse's history of cancer or heart disease or diabetes will prevent them from ever getting insurance again.
On next Tuesday, thousands of those Americans will demand to confront those executives in the lovely halls and conference rooms of the Ritz.
Like the mythical mobster Tony Soprano, the kids of these insurance executives think their parents have respectable jobs. In fact, just like Tony Soprano, they traffic in lives and suffering in order to make more and more money for themselves.
Time to rip off the patina of respectability.
Take people like Ed Hanway, the former CIGNA CEO who retired at the end of last year with a $73 million golden parachute - money he earned by denying coverage to people like Nataline Sarkisian. Nataline died in 2007, just before Christmas. She was 17. She died because CIGNA wouldn't pay for Nataline's liver transplant - even though she had health insurance.
The average transplant operation and hospital stay costs about $250,000. Ed Hanway's $73 million golden parachute would have bought 292 liver transplants. Nataline only needed one.
Or people like Wellpoint's CEO Angela Braly - who last year took down almost $10 million in compensation. Wellpoint's Anthem Blue Cross division just announced a 39% premium increase; it says it needs more money to meet its expenses - like Angela's $10 million salary. And by the way, Wellpoint's profits for the fourth quarter of 2009 skyrocketed to $2.7 billion - accomplished by actually providing health insurance to 185,000 fewer policy holders.
Or people like AHIP chief lobbyist, Karen Ignagni, who once worked to promote health care for average people at the AFL-CIO. She took her thirty pieces of silver and switched sides.
These people are coming to Washington to use their enormous economic power to prevent their fellow Americans from having secure, affordable health care. They cannot be allowed to succeed.
In fact, they should be greeted with the same enthusiasm with which we would greet the forces of an invading army. They should be met at National Airport and Union Station with signs declaring they are unwelcome in the nation's capital.
HCAN has sent letters asking the dozen speakers listed on their agenda to cancel their appearances. HCAN has demanded that these academics and consultants stop giving aid and comfort to the enemy - stop giving them the cover of respectability.
These insurance executives are not here to negotiate. They are not here to shape legislation. They are here to stop health care reform dead in its tracks. They will not be "convinced" to allow health care reform to pass the Congress. They must be defeated.
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the recent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on Amazon.com.