In September, ThinkProgress reported that, despite its public support for health care reform, the insurance industry was engaged in a “duplicitous” campaign to undermine the effort. Recently, the National Journal confirmed our reporting by revealing that six of the top health insurance corporations had secretly pumped up to $20 million dollars into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for a $100-million-dollar attack ad campaign against health reform last year. This week, insurers purchased a new round of attack ads, again with millions laundered through the Chamber.
It’s not just the Chamber. As we have detailed, the health insurance industry also funds Newt Gingrich’s lobbying firm, which has helped to draft health legislation for Republican lawmakers — including bills aimed at deregulating the health insurance market — and advises GOP leaders on ways to kill reform.
Yesterday at the annual conference for America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the lobbying juggernaut for the health insurance industry, the industry again falsely claimed that it is fully behind health reform. ThinkProgress spoke to industry spokesman Robert Zirkelbach, who refused to acknowledge any other attack groups the industry may be funding. He also oddly claimed that funding attack ads and Gingrich is somehow consistent with the industry’s promise “to play, to contribute and to help pass health-care reform”:
TP: But you’ve been funding attack ads as well. … But it’s not just your individual members, AHIP funds Newt Gingrich’s group as well, directly. And he’s against health reform, he says ‘let’s kill the bill.’ That’s kind of contradicting your public statements that you support reform. I just don’t understand why you would fund an attack group if you’re really on board.
ZIRKELBACH: I think there’s broad agreement from stakeholders across the board that we need health care reform. But I think there’s also broad agreement that we need health care reform that’s actually going to work and health care reform that’s actually going to bring down health care costs. This legislation doesn’t do that. [...]
TP: But in the spirit of transparency, we didn’t find out about this $20 million dollars you gave to the Chamber to run these attack ads until a month ago, and these things have been going on for a year. So I’m just asking, are there any other groups, other than Newt Gingrich and the Chamber of Commerce that you’re funding, that are attacking health reform? That premium dollars are going to.
ZIRKELBACH: No. … Well, I don’t agree with your premise that we’re funding groups that you know are trying to you know that aren’t trying to make a health care system that’s going to work and bring down costs. [...] Every thing we’ve done throughout this debate has been focused on what can we do to advance health reform.
Former CIGNA executive Wendell Potter, who for years helped the health insurance industry kill reform before becoming a whistle blower, explained that AHIP regularly works behind closed doors to orchestrate a massive right-wing campaign against reform. In the past, health insurers have used third party PR firms to coordinate attack ads, talking points to conservative radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh, and organizing efforts akin to today’s tea parties. As insurers continue to hike premiums for patients across the country, much of that money is not being spent on actual medical care. Instead, up to 20 percent (or 40 percent in the individual market) goes to profits, administrative costs, and lobbying to kill reform.
Progressive Media produced a video alert on the new health insurer-funded, anti-reform ad released by the Chamber of Commerce. Watch it: