Health Insurers Promise To Help Govt Impelment Health Reform To Hold Off More Progressive Proposals

Despite efforts to torpedo health care reform last year, health insurers are now promising to work alongside federal and state regulators to implement the new reform law and hold off efforts by progressives to re-introduce the public option or single-payer proposals. Speaking at the CIAB’s 9th Annual Employee Benefits Leadership Forum last week, Mike Tuffin, executive VP of AHIP, implied that the industry was very happy with the final version of the bill:

“Health care reform is not over. This is the only the end of the beginning,” Mr. Tuffin said. “Whether we like it or not, the bill was passed. Now we must be reliable and effective implementation partners. We need to stay engaged. The single-payer and public-option supporters have not given up,” he warned.

Insurers have signed on to a 50-state campaign called Enroll America, organized by consumer advocate Ron Pollack of Families USA. The campaign will encourage Americans to comply with the individual health insurance mandate by January 1, 2014 by making it easy for those who already qualify for Medicaid or private insurance subsidies to sign up. “It will raise money to hire local staffs, which will push state governments to create user-friendly enrollment systems. The goal is to allow people to sign up when they see a doctor or apply for other benefits, with simple applications printed in multiple languages.” To be sure, insurers’ efforts to implement reform are guided by self-interest. The industry stands to make millions from the mandate and is already encouraging HHS to adopt fairly loose regulations of its businesses.

Regulators and politicians certainly shouldn’t fold to industry demands or abandon their efforts at securing progressive legislation, but one can’t deny the fact that in implementing reform, insurers can provide critical technical expertise or that their participation in enrollment efforts will only improve implementation. As Jon Kingsdale, the director of the Commonwealth Connector Authority, has observed, “Brow-beating various industries may be good partisan politics, but the Health Connector has worked diligently at creating solid, long-term working relationships.” Those same partnerships will be essential if the health implementation effort is to succeed.

Of course, if insurers are truly interested in dissuading Congress form adopting reforms like the public option or national rate review, they would stop imposing headline grabbing premium increases and paying outrageous CEO bonuses and salaries. Efforts to milk the old system for all its worth could build public (and Senate) support for tougher reforms.