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Health Insurers Funded Chamber Attack Ads

National Journal Tuesday, January 12, 2010

By Peter H. Stone

Just as dealings with the Obama administration and congressional Democrats soured last summer, six of the nation’s biggest health insurers began quietly pumping big money into third-party television ads aimed at killing or significantly modifying the major health reform bills moving through Congress.

That money, between $10 million and $20 million, came from Aetna, Cigna, Humana, Kaiser Foundation Health Plans, UnitedHealth Group and Wellpoint, according to two health care lobbyists familiar with the transactions.

The companies are all members of the powerful trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans.

The funds were solicited by AHIP and funneled to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to help underwrite tens of millions of dollars of television ads by two business coalitions set up and subsidized by the chamber. Each insurer kicked in at least $1 million and some gave multimillion-dollar donations.

“There’s no question that AHIP has quietly solicited monies from their members which were funneled over to the chamber for their ads,” said a source. The total donated by the health insurers, according to one estimate, was as much as one-quarter of the chamber’s total health care advertising budget.

More of the shame

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Yesterday, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) finally released a proposal for his committee’s health care reform bill — the framework for the eventual Senate Finance Committee legislation.

Predictably, the Baucus Plan is totally nightmarish. Naked on the subway while being accosted by prostitutes that resemble Chuck Grassley nightmarish. I’ve been writing about the terrible possibility of such a bill for several weeks, but now it’s actually beginning to take shape.

But first, because he’s not the most famous or likely political villain, here’s some background.

Baucus controls the Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over any legislation that revolves around Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and health care in general. So the senator, as chairman, enjoys a remarkable degree of power considering that he only represents 960,000 people in Montana, one of the most sparsely populated states in the Union. And I’m fairly certain that if polled most Americans would say that Max Baucus is the guy who played Thurston Howell on Gilligan’s Island.

While the Baucus Plan would impose the usual syllabus of regulations on the health insurance industry, it also includes an individual mandate, making it compulsory for everyone to buy a health insurance plan. I get the idea: mandates are an important step to controlling costs and achieving a universal health care, but mandates should be accompanied by a public health insurance option in order to serve as an “option of good conscience” — an escape hatch for those of us who have moral objections to being forced under penalty of law to finance the corrupt insurance cartels.

And the Baucus Plan doesn’t offer a public insurance option.

(more…)

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