Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Don't Cross Chuck Schumer

On October 11, America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), a trade association of health insurers, released a report from PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) detailing the probable impact of the Senate Finance health care bill on insurance premiums.

No surprise that PWC found that the plan would raise premiums. Democrats quickly attacked the report as a desperate effort to derail the President's sacred health care reform. From USA Today:

The White House, which had been working with the insurance industry, blasted the report and its timing.

"This is a self-serving analysis from the insurance industry," said White House spokesman Reid Cherlin. "It comes on the eve of a vote that will reduce the industry's profits."
From the Democrats (via the New York Times):
Scott Mulhauser, a spokesman for Democrats on the Finance Committee, said: “This report is untrue, disingenuous and bought and paid for by the same health insurance companies that have been gouging consumers for too long. Now that health care reform grows ever closer, these health insurers are breaking out the same tired playbook of deception. It’s a health insurance company hatchet job.”
Until this summer's "invasion of the body snatchers" in Washington, many findings of this report were generally accepted. But in the all out war going on in Washington, they are now a nothing but a "hatchet job".  Karen Ignagni, President of AHIP, defended the report and its findings yesterday in the Washington Post:
Some have questioned the timing of the report's release. AHIP commissioned the report Sept. 29, as it became clear that the Finance Committee would gut the requirement that all individuals obtain coverage. We received the study on Saturday, Oct. 10, and shared it with our members the next day.

The report's central finding has long been noncontroversial in health policy and economic circles: namely, that implementing reforms of the insurance market without a strong requirement that everyone participate will cause adverse selection and significantly increase costs for individuals and small businesses. This finding echoes the message President Obama delivered in his address to Congress last month. "And unless everybody does their part, many of the insurance reforms we seek -- especially requiring insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions -- just can't be achieved. And that's why under my plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance," he said.
Now, we learn that Democrats in the House and Senate are planning to repeal the health insurance industry’s longstanding exemption from federal antitrust law established by the McCarran Ferguson Act of 1945. Actually this is not a new effort, but recent statements and actions by liberal lawmakers leave no doubt that it's payback time for the American companies that provide private health insurance.  The New York Post online doesn't mix words:
Don't cross Chuck Schumer -- unless you want to swim with cement shoes. Or so New York's senior senator seemed to be telling health insurers.

After the industry issued a report showing ObamaCare would drive up health-care bills, Schumer moved to ice their longtime anti-trust exemption.

Sen. Shameless said he was reacting to their "stirring the pot," because they'd "blundered so badly" with their report.

Whether the exemption is merited is not at issue; this is policymaking-by-vendetta. And it's scary, especially when you consider his priors: In 2008, he leaked a confidential letter about IndyMac bank, arguably causing a run on deposits and putting the bank out of business.
And today, The Hill, reveals a parallel effort in the House:
Sponsors of a bill to revoke the antitrust exemption of the health insurance industry will try to add it to the House healthcare overhaul when it comes before the Rules Committee.
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), a lead co-sponsor of the bill, said Tuesday she would like to see the measure wrapped into the healthcare legislation by the committee, or seek to have Rules allow a floor vote on the amendment. The House Judiciary Committee is to vote on the bill Wednesday.
DeGette states, further:
“Why are our insurance companies exempt from antitrust laws?” DeGette said. “There are only two industries with that exemption: insurance and Major League Baseball. If it ever had a rationale, it’s no longer operative.”
Is she serious?  What about labor unions?  A subject for another post.

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