Los Angeles Times business columnist David Lazarus is about as skeptical as we are about the insurance industry’s pronouncement that it is ready to work with the Obama administration to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system. “Insurers Return to the Table Again,” (May 17, 2009). Lazarus asks the question, “Does anybody trust them?” He couldn’t find anyone who said “yes.”
Lazarus compares this round of the industry’s enthusiasm to “serve the national best interests” to the 1970s when the Carter administration attempted to craft a national healthcare policy. “Nothing came of it,” said Alain Enthoven, who was a Carter consultant. “The whole thing was just a joke.” It happened in the 1990s during the Clinton administration. “They said they wanted to be at the table and wanted to deal,” former Clinton health official Karen Pollitz told Lazarus. “Then they all left. They saw that they could kill it.”
Insurance industry lobby America’s Health Insurance Plans’ Robert Zirkelbach told Lazarus “everything’s different this time.” But no one is buying it.
Here’s the industry’s compromise: If the government forces everyone to buy health insurance, the industry will quit denying sick people coverage and equalize premiums for men and women. And that’s if the Obama administration scuttles its plan for public insurance that would compete with the private sector.
And Lazarus’s point is this: This time, it’s not about what’s “politically feasible and financially palatable.” No, he says, this time it’s about the people who can’t afford health insurance but can’t afford not to have it. That, he concludes, is all of us.
We hope the Obama administration reaches the same conclusion and forces the insurance industry to keep their promises. But we’re still skeptical.