In a new cover story, BusinessWeek claims that the “health insurers have already won” the battle over health care reform. According to the magazine, their strategy has been to “quietly” focus on “shaping the views” of more conservative Democrats. Central to the health insurers’ strategy is to target the Blue Dog Coalition, which includes Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT) and Rep. Mike Ross (D-AR):
Impressing fiscally conservative Democrats like Matheson, a leader of the House of Representatives’ Blue Dog Coalition, is at the heart of UnitedHealth’s strategy. It boils down to ensuring that whatever overhaul Congress passes this year will help rather than hurt huge insurance companies. […]
Matheson, whose Blue Dogs command 52 votes in the House, can’t offer enough praise for UnitedHealth, the largest company of its kind. “The tried and true message of their advocacy,” he says, “is making sure the information they provide is accurate and considered.” […]
Fifteen years after the insurance industry helped kill then-President Bill Clinton’s health-reform initiative, Ross is frustrating the Obama White House by opposing proposals for a government-run insurance concern that would compete with private-sector companies.
The article goes on to note that United Health’s massive lobbying operation, which has spent more than $3.4 million during the first half of 2009, has enlisted the help of a large array of Washington insiders. Its lobbying operation appears to be paying off:
The industry has already accomplished its main goal of at least curbing, and maybe blocking altogether, any new publicly administered insurance program that could grab market share from the corporations that dominate the business. UnitedHealth has distinguished itself by more deftly and aggressively feeding sophisticated pricing and actuarial data to information-starved congressional staff members. With its rivals, the carrier has also achieved a secondary aim of constraining the new benefits that will become available to tens of millions of people who are currently uninsured. That will make the new customers more lucrative to the industry.
As ThinkProgress has noted, the Blue Dog Coalition is awash in corporate cash. The health care industry was the top donor to Matheson’s 2008 campaign, giving him hundreds of thousands of dollars. The health industry was also the top donor to Ross, a former pharmaceutial executive whose negotiations recently forced the Energy and Commerce committee to weaken its health care bill.
Despite the health care industry’s intense lobbying effort on capitol hill, several polls show that the majority of the American people remain strongly in support of the choice of a public health insurance plan. As Matt Yglesias has noted, “So just keep in mind that when people talk about political obstacles to a robust public plan, they’re not talking about mass public opinion as an obstacle—they’re talking about the wealth and power of relatively narrow interests.”
Congressman Ross bragged to reporters Wednesday morning about how the Blue Dogs weakened the public plan by “holding the [health care] bill hostage for ten days” in the Energy and Commerce committee.