Tuesday, October 27, 2009
As President Obama's push for a healthcare overhaul moves toward its final act, the oft-vilified health insurance industry is on the verge of seeing a plan enacted that largely protects its financial interests..
That achievement, should it stand up in the final legislation, would be the capstone of a sophisticated lobbying and strategic campaign that began even before Obama was elected president.
The specifics of the healthcare legislation are still being hashed out on Capitol Hill, and key details will evolve in the days ahead. Even so, there is broad agreement that the final plan will, for the first time, require Americans to buy health coverage, with taxpayer subsidies for millions who cannot afford it.
For the health insurance industry, that means millions of new paying customers. What's more, there are likely to be no limits on what insurers can charge, while at the same time the plan is expected to limit competition from any new national government insurance plan that lawmakers create.
These anticipated wins -- from an initiative that has at times been portrayed as doomsday for health insurers -- is the result of a strategy developed by one of Washington's savviest lobbyists, Karen Ignagni. Under Ignagni's leadership, the industry group America's Health Insurance Plans adopted the goal of universal coverage while setting out to shape it in a way that benefited insurers -- a crucial move that aligned their interests with those of other groups, including consumers and hospitals.
Insurers poured campaign donations into the coffers of key sympathetic members of the House and Senate, and loaded up on lobbyists. And when Obama and other Democrats began attacking the industry, insurers made a strategic choice not to walk away from the negotiating table