"Blue Cross Blue Shield Lobbyists Quietly Helping Extreme Effort To Declare Health Reform Unconstitutional"
ThinkProgess has documented how the private health insurance industry is waging a duplicitous, “two-faced” campaign to kill health reform. Because the industry understands that the public views it in a largely negative light, the industry presents itself as proactively working hand-in-hand with legislators to produce reform. However, behind the scenes, the industry is coordinating a massive effort to kill all reform — employing attacks from front groups, allied politicians, think tanks, lobbyists, and right-wing media.
The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, which is a lobbying group representing 39 independent Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans, is also engaged in this two-faced campaign. Like most of industry, the BCBS Association says it fully supports the concept of health reform, but continually demands drastic changes to the bills in Congress. Some have begun to question the BCBS Association’s claim of support given its new study attacking reform legislation in the Senate. The criticism of BCBS is bolstered by a new revelation that BCBS Association lobbyists are helping to orchestrate a right-wing movement to invalidate all of health reform.
Yesterday, the BCBS Association released yet another industry-sponsored study to distort health reform and falsely claim that premiums will skyrocket because of the legislation. However, the nonpartisan CBO reported earlier this week that under the Senate health reform bill, “most Americans would pay the same or less in premiums.” A New York Times editorial yesterday criticized BCBS Association’s study, and noted correctly that it is yet another example of the private insurance industry doing whatever it can to frighten Americans.
But while the study certainly damages BCBS’ credibility, BCBS is involved in another anti-health reform ploy that they do not bother to promote on the BCBS website. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), founded in 1973 by conservative activist Paul Weyrich, is a DC-based front group which helps state lawmakers craft corporate-friendly legislation. As the Atlantic has noted, ALEC developed template health care “states’ rights,” legislation to declare aspects of health reform unconstitutional. ALEC has promoted this “tenther” legislation using its network of mostly far right Republican state lawmakers. The bills, which have been adopted in some form in 24 states so far, aim to invalidate federal regulations of health insurance, the public option and the individual mandate using the Tenther Amendment.
According to the ALEC website, the resolution was developed by a three member task force of industry representatives. One of the of the members is Joan Gardner, who is executive director of state services with the BCBS Association’s Office of Policy and Representation. In an interview with ThinkProgress, Christie Herrera, the director of ALEC’s health task force, confirmed that Gardner played a pivotal role in crafting this anti-health reform states’ rights initiative. Herrera told us that Gardner’s unique position at the BCBS Association brought “great knowledge” to the issue, and that Gardner voted to press forward with the campaign.
Part of the reason the BCBS Association has claimed that it opposes the reform bill in its current form is because of what it perceives as a weak individual mandate. However, the BCBS Association-supported ALEC campaign depicts the very notion of an individual mandate as “anti-freedom.” So either way the Senate acts, BCBS will be able to trash the bill and try to kill reform.
Private insurers have already been caught using a stealth lobbying firm to send employees to rowdy town halls (and radical tea party events), sharing lobbyists with slash-and-burn anti-health reform attack groups, and paying a number of conservative pundits who regularly appear in major media outlets to slam health reform. Now that it is clear that BCBS helped write the script for the radical tenther movement, any claim that the industry supports reform must be viewed with heightened skepticism.