NOTE: This is the fourth installment of our series — Meet Your Insurance Company Executive: An Interview with Wendell Potter.
Last week, ThinkProgress spoke with Wendell Potter, a former VP of communications at health insurance giant CIGNA, about how insurance companies deceive the public with vague promises of “being at the table” for reform. Earlier this year, Karen Ignagni, the chief lobbyist and leader for AHIP, the trade group representing the health insurance industry, came to the White House and pledged to President Obama, “You have our commitment to play, to contribute and to help pass healthcare reform this year.” This trope, repeated by other representatives for the insurance industry, achieved the goal of persuading many that this year would be “different” for reform and that insurers would not torpedo legislation like in previous efforts. But as Potter notes, lobbyists and public relations professionals like Ignagni can make broad promises without ever being accountable. Individual insurance companies are not on board with what Ignagni is selling:
— AHIP says the industry will end the immoral practice of rescinding coverage of sick customers. But when asked this summer — under oath — by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) if they would “commit” to stopping this practice, executives from UnitedHealth Group, Assurant, and WellPoint all refused.
— AHIP says the health insurance industry is fully supportive of the idea of covering everybody, regardless of medical condition. However, in conference call with investors last month, Aetna CEO Ron Williams bluntly stated that he would pursue profits rather than add or keep enrollment. “We have a clear bias toward profitability over growth,” said Williams.
Potter continues by arguing that the public should be examining the business practices of insurers, not blindly accepting the promises of lobbyists:
POTTER: But if those companies are under oath, three different companies, including one of the largest in the land, that they will continue those, that’s who you should believe. That’s what will be the policy going forward. The trade association doesn’t have power to change practices of the insurance industry at the insurance company level. It can’t change a business model or a way of doing business.
The friendly, positive statements by Ignagni and her colleagues are part of the “duplicitous” campaign by the insurance industry to charm the public while secretly working to kill and undermine reform. ThinkProgress has documented this campaign and produced this page explaining the insurance industry tactics.
Writing for Vanity Fair, Matt Kapp reveals some key stats about health care profiteering:
With median annual compensation of more than $12.4 million, C.E.O.’s at the big health-care companies make two-thirds more than their counterparts in finance and are the highest paid of any industry. The health-care industry’s total annual profit has grown to an estimated $200 billion, and it doled out nearly $170 million in campaign contributions in 2007 and 2008. It now spends more than any other industry lobbying the federal government—$3.5 billion over the past decade and a record $263 million in the first six months of this year.