Thursday, December 9, 2010

Back to the Future—Biggest Health Plans Reported to be Building Their Own Political Coalition

I had a real sense of déjà vu this morning reading Bara Vaida’s story in Kaiser Health News:
Five of the nation's largest health insurance companies are taking a key step toward building their own inside-the-Beltway coalition to influence implementation of the new health law and congressional efforts to change it. The companies – Aetna, Cigna, Humana, UnitedHealthcare and Wellpoint – are shopping around Washington for a public relations firm to represent them…

Several industry observers said the companies want their own "subcommittee" within AHIP to influence the group's political and policy choices in 2011. "I think some of the companies felt the small and non-profit company interests were getting more attention within AHIP and they wanted to make sure their interests were considered too," said one health insurance executive whose company is a member of AHIP. "I think this is just about normal tensions within trade associations…"

Others speculated that the health insurers were seeking a way to reestablish ties with congressional Republicans, who were angered that the companies, via AHIP, worked with the Obama administration for much of 2009 on health care legislation.
This reminds me of the early 1990s. In the wake of the insurance industry being made to be the bad guys during the Clinton Health Plan debate, many of the largest members exited the historically dominant Health Insurance Association of America (HIAA) for the competing HMO dominated trade association.

At the time, many observers saw a cynical irony in the move; it was those dominant members that drove much of the policy that got the industry in trouble. Once the brand [HIAA] had been spoiled, many felt at the time, the big guys declared themselves the innocent ones and used the move to begin anew their Washington lobbying from a new platform.

Ironically, some years later HIAA and the HMO trade association merged to form AHIP.

Guess the largest health insurance companies once again were outflanked by a bunch of little guys and not-for-profits, this time on the AHIP board, and forced, once again, into a failed political strategy that was not of their doing.
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