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Health Insurance Companies Secretly Bankrolling Effort to Kill Reform

Posted on by Karina

This afternoon, the National Journal published an article on the nation’s largest insurance companies funneling $10 – $20 million through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to pay for deceptive tv ads opposing health insurance reform:

That money, between $10 million and $20 million, came from Aetna, Cigna, Humana, Kaiser Foundation Health Plans, UnitedHealth Group and Wellpoint, according to two health care lobbyists familiar with the transactions. The companies are all members of the powerful trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans.

The funds were solicited by AHIP and funneled to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to help underwrite tens of millions of dollars of television ads by two business coalitions set up and subsidized by the chamber. Each insurer kicked in at least $1 million and some gave multimillion-dollar donations.

The article also reveals that the attack ad effort was well underway even as the insurance companies were publicly claiming to support health reform:

In late October, Ignagni wrote in a letter to the Washington Post defending a health insurer-funded study critical of congressional cost estimates, “Let me be clear and direct, health plans continue to strongly support reform.” However, by that time money was already flowing through AHIP to the chamber to fund its negative ads.

The fundraising started last September and continued through December using AHIP as a conduit to avoid a repeat of the political flak that hit the insurance industry after it famously ran its multimillion-dollar “Harry and Louise” ads to help kill health care reforms during the Clinton administration.

“AHIP wanted to do this through a third party because of what happened with the Harry and Louise ads,” said a lobbying source. “The goal was to get a message out there to make sure the public understood the serious shortcomings of the legislative proposals.”

This proves Wendell Potter, a former CIGNA Vice President who left the insurance industry after a 20 year career, prescient last year as he discussed the insurance industry “dirty tricks” Americans should expect to see during the reform debate:

The industry has conducted duplicitous and well-financed PR and lobbying campaigns every time Congress has tried to reform our health care system–and how its current behind-scenes-efforts may well shape reform in a way that benefits Wall Street far more than average Americans. I noted that, just as they did 15 years ago when the insurance industry led the effort to kill the Clinton reform plan, it is using shills and front groups to spread lies and disinformation to scare Americans away from the very reform that would benefit them most. Make no mistake, the industry, despite its public assurances to be good-faith partners with the President and Congress, has been at work for months laying the groundwork for devious and often sinister campaigns to manipulate public opinion.

Speaker Pelosi on today’s report:

These big insurance companies appear to have gotten caught secretly bankrolling the effort to kill health insurance reform for millions of Americans, despite their disingenuous claims of support for the legislation. This duplicity is not surprising coming from an industry that has used every method to try to kill health insurance reform that would save lives, save money, save jobs, and save Medicare.

The insurance industry has spent millions of dollars on the wrong side of history — standing in the way of progress for our workers, families, and businesses, by secretly funding a campaign to maintain a health insurance system of high costs, limited access, and arbitrary cut-offs for American consumers.

Congress is working with President Obama and thousands of health, consumer, and labor organizations across the nation to finalize health insurance reform that ensures affordability for the middle class, accountability for the insurance industry, and access for millions more Americans. But Americans should judge these deceptive ads for what they are–now that they know who has been paying the tab.

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