Bill Clinton to health insurers: ‘I want to thank you for your support of the health care reform movement.’

Earlier this week, former President Bill Clinton visited the group that almost single-handedly brought down his health care bill in 1993 with their infamous Harry and Louise ads. Clinton delivered the keynote address at the America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) conference in Las Vegas, where he thanked them for supporting reform the second time around:

“I want to thank you for your support of the health care reform movement,” Clinton said numerous times during his lengthy, largely economics-oriented speech, which dealt with everything from the BP oil spill, to a new bus system in Lima, Peru.

“You deserve credit for taking a different position on this health care reform debate than the last one,” he said. The Health Insurance Association of America, an earlier incarnation of AHIP, was largely credited with torpedoing Clinton’s reform plans with their multimillion dollar “Harry and Louise” ad campaign.[…]

“I agree with you that we should have done more on cost-control,” he said, but he added that the law’s new insurance exchanges — which will begin operations in 2014 — will spur competition between insurance companies and lower costs.


“Americans tend to blame insurance companies for things that are really probably providers’ faults,” he said.

Clinton certainly isn’t wrong in suggesting that under the leadership of Karen Ignagni, the insurers adopted a more conciliatory tone towards reform. But he’s overstating the intensity of their support. In 2009–10, industry support for reform was certainly more vocal, but it was unmistakably in opposition at the end. From September to December 2009 — while publicly embracing the idea of universal coverage — the nation’s biggest health insurers ran a “duplicitous campaign” by quietly “pumping big money into third-party television ads aimed at killing or significantly modifying the major health reform bills moving through Congress.” An AHIP lobbyist urged Republicans not to vote for health care, arguing that they would be “giving comfort to the enemy who is down.” AHIP frightened seniors, fought the public plan, and funneled money to the Chamber of Commerce to underwrite tens of millions of dollars in attack ads.