Lynn Swearingen (c) copyright 2010 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Flashback: February 2009

The Obama administration and Poizner’s office were prompted to act after Anthem members with individual policies – those who are not covered through employer-sponsored or group plans – were told last week that they would have to pay premiums up to 39 percent higher than their current rates. The Woodland Hills (Los Angeles County) company would not say how many people will be affected, but Anthem has as many as 800,000 individual policyholders – more than any other for-profit insurer – in the state.

Obama reacts

President Obama appears to be using Anthem’s decision to increase rates to bolster efforts to revive the stalled health overhaul effort in Congress. In a CBS interview with Katie Couric on Sunday, Obama referred to Anthem’s hikes as a reason why reform is needed.

Today: Anthem Blue Cross is allowed to move ahead with rate hikes

California insurance regulators cleared the way Wednesday for Anthem Blue Cross to implement scaled-back rate hikes after a previous increase was canceled amid an uproar over its size.

Anthem said it intends to put the new rates — averaging 14% and as high as 20% — into effect Oct. 1 for nearly 800,000 individual California policyholders.

Regulators also allowed one of Anthem’s nonprofit competitors, Blue Shield of California, to move ahead with rate increases — averaging 19% and as high as 29% — for 250,000 individual policyholders.

Remember. If you like your plan, you can keep your plan:

OBAMA: “If You Have Health Insurance And You Like It, And You Have A Doctor That You Like, Then You Can Keep It. Period. And I Won’t Sign A Bill That Somehow Would Make It Tougher For People To Keep Their Health Insurance. … We certainly would not be signing a bill that somehow prevented somebody from getting, from keeping insurance that they’ve already got or allow private insurers to sign up new folks if they’re providing good service.” (President Obama, Conference Call With Liberal Bloggers, 7/20/09)

•    OBAMA: “First, If You Are Among The Hundreds Of Millions Of Americans Who Already Have Health Insurance Through Your Job, Medicare, Medicaid, Or The VA, Nothing In This Plan Will Require You Or Your Employer To Change The Coverage Or The Doctor You Have.  Let Me Repeat This:  Nothing In Our Plan Requires You To Change What You Have.” (President Obama, Remarks To A Joint Session Of Congress (As Prepared), 9/9/09)

•    OBAMA: “So If You Like Your Plan, You Can Keep Your Plan.” (President Obama, Remarks, Strongsville, OH, 3/15/10)

We’ve agreed that our health reform bill will promote choice.  America — Americans will be able to compare the price and quality of different plans, and pick the plan that they want. If you like your current plan, you will be able to keep it.  Let me repeat that: If you like your plan, you’ll be able to keep it.

President Barack Obama’s address to the annual meeting of the American Medical Association today didn’t break new ground, but attempted to assure doctors and their patients that his prescription for overhauling the health care system would be good for them.

For patients, he made a sweeping pledge that “no matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period. If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what. My view is that health care reform should be guided by a simple principle: fix what’s broken and build on what works.”

*****

But last month, as the president acknowledged during a press conferencehe doesn’t literally mean that you are guaranteed to be able to keep your health care plan, and your doctor, if and when health care reform passes.

“When I say ‘If you have your plan and you like it,… or you have a doctor and you like your doctor, that you don’t have to change plans,’” the president said after we asked him about this, “what I’m saying is the government is not going to make you change plans under health reform.”

Importantly, the government might create circumstances – say, a public health care option that is less expensive since profit is not a concern and overhead is lower – where you might find your business forcing you into that public plan.

Sure you can keep your plan if you like it my fellow Americans. However you have to be able to afford it and that is the little stumbling block. Legislators knew American’s were not going to pony up to pay for someone else’s care, so in order to “back door” tax us they figured out a way to use your employer to impose, collect and administer that tax. If the consequence is you cannot afford insurance, are dropped and have to purchase a “Government Mandated” plan, well – that’s just a side benefit – no one had that in mind from the beginning – did they?

One can be sure that the amount spent by Blue Cross no matter what name they go by these days was well spent. In fact an easy to use search function at The Center for Public Interest will let one locate the who, what, where, when, etc. I was unable to copy the 4 page table that shows “Blue Cross” spending habits, however if the reader simply puts “Blue Cross” into the business search function one should be able to verify the total (which I stopped counting at 12 million dollars for 2009 alone).

The Center for Public Interest has this to say:

Despite the recession, 2009 was a boom year for influence peddling overall with business and advocacy groups shelling out $3.47 billion for lobbyists to represent them on all kinds of issues, according to the nonprofit group Center for Responsive Politics.

Much of that money went to fight the health reform battle, according to Center for Public Integrity data. Businesses and organizations that lobbied on health reform spent more than $1.2 billion on their overall lobby efforts. The exact amount they spent on health reform is difficult to quantify because most health care lobbyists also worked on other issues, and lobby disclosure rules do not require businesses to report how much they paid on each issue.

From an industry perspective, it was money well spent. A close look at the health reform bills that passed the House and Senate show lobbyists were apparently effective at blocking provisions like a robust government-run insurance program, and blunting the effect of cost-cutting measures on health care companies.

Even more interesting is the fact that a new “Non-Profit Group” is being formed to work on November’s elections.

Five of the nation’s largest health insurers are in serious discussions about creating a new nonprofit group and bankrolling it to the tune of about $20 million to influence tight congressional races and boost the image of their industry.

“The objective is to make the House more accommodating to concerns that have been raised,” says one industry source. “They’re looking at toss-up candidates,” adding that the companies want to “focus resources to influence campaigns.”

Representatives of Aetna, Cigna, Humana, United HealthCare, and WellPoint could not be immediately reached for comment.

Of course they couldn’t be reached for comment. They are likely having lunch with your Legislator.

 

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