Last 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. Now the National Journal has confirmed that from September to December 2009, “six of the nation’s biggest health insurers began quietly pumping big money into third-party television ads aimed at killing or significantly modifying the major health reform bills moving through Congress.” The companies used America’s Health Insurance Plans — the lobbying arm of the insurance industry — “as a conduit to avoid a repeat of the political flack that hit the insurance industry after it famously ran its multi-million dollar ‘Harry and Louise’ ads to help kill health care reforms during the Clinton administration”:
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 multi-million dollar donations.
Watch a compilation of some of these ads:
The industry’s covert ad campaign isn’t the industry’s only means of wasting millions of premium dollars on sabotaging reform. As former health insurance executive Wendell Potter told ThinkProgress, insurers are using a variety of front groups to advance a hidden attack campaign. The industry regularly feeds talking points to right-wing media like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, mobilizes anti-reform “grassroots” groups and coordinates with conservative think-tanks to produce academic-appearing reports to advance their cause.
The insurance industry has also funded state efforts to challenge the constitutionality of health reform. Insurers have “spent heavily on political contributions” in the 14 states seeking to ratify constitutional amendments that would repeal all or parts of the new measure and contributed thousands of dollars to the attorneys generals seeking to disqualify reform. Earlier this month, Lee Fang reported that Blue Cross Blue Shield Association “played a pivotal role in crafting this anti-health reform states’ rights initiative.”
National Journal’s report should be the last nail in the coffin of AHIP’s public charm campaign. Throughout the health care debate, AHIP President and CEO Karen Ignagni repeatedly reassured the public that insurers were committed to health care reform and even produced a plan for reforming the system. “We understand that we have to earn a seat at the table,” Ignagni told Obama during the White House Health Summit in March 2009. “You have our commitment to play, to contribute, and to help pass health care reform this year,” she promised.
Even after the industry sponsored several reports criticizing reform legislation, AHIP always reiterated the insurance industry’s “commitment” to reforming the health system. “We don’t want to let Americans down. It’s very important. We promised that we are committed to this. Our industry is for-square behind it, but we have an obligation to explain how to make that happen,” Ignagni told Congress in October, as her industry was donating millions of dollars to defeat reform. In fact, insurers have long been dues-paying members of the Chamber. AETNA has given $100,000 to the Chamber, while Unitedhealth Group payed at least $20,000.
AHIP’s statement, acknowledging its role in paying for the ads, uses a conciliatory tone:
Reform needs to make health care more affordable, particularly for small businesses that struggle to provide coverage to their employees. We share the very serious concerns employers have raised about provisions that will increase health care costs, including new premium taxes that will hit small businesses hard. So when the employer community—our customers—asked us to contribute to their campaign, we readily agreed.
Meanwhile, Kaiser Permanente released a statement saying it did not provide funding for the Chamber ads.