Last week, as the Republican Senate majority was ferociously attempting to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, they received opposition from an unusual party: the health insurance industry.American Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) and Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), the two largest health insurance lobbyists in the country, co-wrote a letter to the Senate arguing that the "Consumer Freedom Option," alternatively known as the Cruz amendment to the Better Care Reconciliation Act, would utterly destroy their ability to provide adequate health insurance.Opponents of the healthcare bill rejoiced as they made strange bedfellows of the same corporations who fought President Obama's attempts to reform their industry eight years ago.
The amendment would allow Insurance companies to provide health care plans which do not need the Affordable Care Act essential health benefits so long as at least one plan to provide in a given state does.Cruz argues this would lower premiums as people bought plans which met their needs and did not carry Services they felt were unnecessary.
In their letter, the insurance industry argued that the amendment "is simply unworkable in any form and would undermine protections for those with pre-existing medical conditions, increase premiums and lead to widespread terminations of coverage for people currently enrolled in the individual market." By enabling insurers to discriminate between people and offer plans that fall far below the federal standard established under existing law, Cruz's offered solution would make coverage "unaffordable for the millions of people who need or want comprehensive coverage, including, for example, coverage for prescription drugs and mental health services." Additionally, "millions of more individuals will become uninsured" as coverage options decrease drastically, according to the companies who work to provide such insurance.
Many people often view the insurance industry as the home to greedy corporations willing to prohibit life-saving treatments if it would save them money or hunt people down after they have experienced lengthy hospital stays.Last August Gallup found that a majority of Americans held negative views of the healthcare industry.Despite this negative image, it appears that the insurance lobby has come out against the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act and the tightened regulations it placed on their industry four years ago.In a situation where most people would predict the corporations would side with the business-friendly Republican Party's attempts to deregulate markets, AHIP and BCBSA did just the opposite.
In their letter, the insurance companies go so far as to prioritize patients and the individual's ability to afford necessary care.Rather than describing the difficulties they may face as providers, AHIP and BCBSA write about the plight of people with pre-existing conditions who will receive insufficient coverage and financial aid under the Senate health care bill.Here is a turn towards compassion from companies often thought to be harbingers of death for people who cannot afford the care they need to survive disastrous accidents or diseases.While BCRA may not provide a path toward patient-centered care, this certainly is a patient-centered letter.It discusses the impact the Senate's bill and the Cruz amendment, in particular, would have on healthy people, people with long term illnesses, and middle-class families who do not receive federal tax credits.At every step, the industry is lobbying for its patients, not its wallet.
Most surprisingly of all about the letter's public release and its attack on the Senate health care bill was that the same companies lobbied hard against the Affordable Care Act when it was up for debate years ago.AHIP itself spent over a hundred million dollars fighting President Obama's reform efforts in just over a year.Even as it publicly supported the law, it was spending huge amounts of money to help stop it from passing through Congress.Writing about their efforts to halt health care reform in 2010, Rick Ungar said "these have to be the worst people in the world" Now with a chance to be rid of the legislation, AHIP has decided to support the ACA and impede BCRA's path to becoming the law of the land.
It seems that insurance companies have learned more compassion than many would have given them credit for just a year ago.With an opportunity to pad their profits available to them they have come out swinging in favor of protecting consumers— and lives.Rather than helping sell the Republican efforts to make corporations free to act in their best interests, these lobbyists took a stand for the little people.As of now, the healthcare bill has been defeated by a number of Republican senators announcing they will vote against it.No doubt their own beliefs and the concerns of their constituents led them to their positions, but the warning cry of a multi-billion dollar industry's largest organizations cannot be underestimated as forces for change during this debate.