After Brutal Health Reform Fight, Obama Invites Health Insurers To Dinner

In the last month of the health care debate, the administration vilified insurers for denying coverage to sick people, dropping individuals when they became sick and increasing premiums by some 39% during an economic rescission. As the President crossed the country in a final push to build support for the effort, he argued that the current system “works better for the insurance companies than it does for the American people” and promised to sign a reform bill that would give the power back to the American people. “Every year, insurance companies deny more people coverage because they’ve got preexisting conditions. Every year, they drop more people’s coverage when they get sick right when they need it most. Every year, they raise premiums higher and higher and higher,” Obama said during a March 8th rally in Pennsylvania. “We need to give families and businesses more control over their own health insurance. And that’s why we need to pass health care reform — not next year, not five years from now, not 10 years from now, but now.”

Now that health reform has passed, the administration has adopted a much more conciliatory tone towards the industry. Yesterday, Obama invited 13 members of the Business Council to dinner to discuss “the legislation pending in the Senate to overhaul U.S. financial regulations, as well as administration efforts to spur economic growth.” Among the guests were the CEOs of two large insurance companies, WellPoint and Aetna:

· Ronald Williams, Chairman & CEO, Aetna · Patricia Woertz, Chairman, President & CEO, Archer Daniels Midland Company · Riley Bechtel, Chairman & CEO, Bechtel Group, Inc. · Peter Grauer, Chairman, President & CEO, Bloomberg, Inc. · Jim Owens, Chairman & CEO, Caterpillar · Ellen Kullman, Chairman & CEO, DuPont · Rex Tillerson, Chairman & CEO, ExxonMobil · Jamie Dimon, Chairman, President & CEO, JPMorgan Chase & Co. · Charles Moorman, Chairman & CEO, Norfolk Southern Corporation · Steve Odland, Chairman & CEO, Office Depot · James Goodnight, Chairman, President & CEO, SAS Institute Inc. · Andrew Liveris, Chairman & CEO, The Dow Chemical Company · Angela Braly, Chairman, President & CEO, WellPoint, Inc.

While some may view Obama’s new approach as a cynical ploy, the new friendlier tone makes more sense in the post reform-world. The administration will have to rely on insurers to implement reform and partner with the industry to encourage Americans to sign up for coverage. Regulators will work closely with AHIP and all of the health care stakeholders to issue the appropriate rules and regulations and will make use of the group’s technical expertise.


As Jon Kingsdale, the director of the Commonwealth Connector Authority, observed in yesterday’s Boston Globe, “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.