This morning, Bloomberg reporter Drew Armstrong broke an incredible story revealing that health insurance companies, like UnitedHealth and CIGNA, funneled $86.2 million into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2009 to pay for the Chamber’s multifaceted campaign to kill President Obama’s health reform legislation. In January of this year, the National Journal’s Peter Stone reported that insurers had pumped $20 million into the Chamber for its anti-health reform campaign. Armstrong’s report exposes the true extent to which insurers worked to fool the public and defeat health reform. However, the report also poses new questions about the role of insurance companies in the health reform debate.
Why did insurance companies try to hide their donations to the Chamber’s anti-health reform campaign? Given their own unpopularity and Obama’s pledge to be the first leader to successfully reform America’s broken health system, the health insurance industry hatched a plan to fundamentally deceive the public, the press, and politicians. Instead of fighting reform tooth and nail, the insurance industry worked to manipulate the process and ultimately kill reforms by adopting what ThinkProgress termed “The Duplicitous Campaign.” In public, health insurance lobbyists and executives promised to support reform and work closely with reform advocates. The top health insurance lobbyist, Karen Ignagni, went to the White House early in the reform debate and promised Obama, “You have our commitment to play, to contribute and to help pass health-care reform this year.”
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In private, the health insurance industry worked with conservative think tanks and media, right-wing front groups, and highly ideological trade associations like the National Association of Manufacturers and the Chamber to kill the bill. By using third party groups and ideological cover, the health insurance industry sought to trick Americans into hating reform. In September of 2009, while many in the media still believed insurance executives were honestly supporting reform, ThinkProgress released a report detailing the ways in which the health insurance industry secretly worked to undermine the process and poison public opinion (read it here). We also produced a video with health insurance whistle-blower Wendell Potter, who explained how insurers control the debate to defeat reform:
ThinkProgress busted several anti-reform groups, like Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, Coalition to Protect Patients’ Rights and Center for Medicine in the Public Interest as industry-created fronts used to deceive the public. As ThinkProgress also first reported, health insurance companies like WellPoint and Blue Cross Blue Shield paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to anti-reform talking heads like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. In December of 2009, ThinkProgress produced an exclusive investigation showing how health insurance executives are also secretly working to undermine and undo reform on the state level by orchestrating state-based constitutional challenges to the law. The question for the press and for politicians becomes: we now know that health insurance companies absolutely lied to the public about its role in the reform process in 2009. How much are health insurers funding efforts to repeal the law and weaken health reform regulations?
According to a new report by HCAN, a pro-reform group, health insurers posted a 22 percent increase in profits for 2010, largely by shedding customers. How much of that money — money from health insurance premiums — is being used on right-wing lobbying campaigns instead of actual treatments and health care for the sick?