Wyden Talks to the Insurers

At his blog for The American Prospect, Ezra Klein describes Senator Ron Wyden's speech to the 2008 National Policy Forum held by America's Health Insurance Plans, a group representing health insurance companies:

Senator Ron Wyden, whose Healthy Americans Act is currently the locus for legislative organizing in the Senate, opened the day's session. I've now seen Wyden speak a dozen or so times, and I'm always struck by the same thing: As a speaker, he's friendly. He doesn't intimidate, or exhort, or yell, or lambaste. He's chattier than that. He's self deprecating and conversational. All of which makes him non-threatening. And that makes him pretty good in front of crowds who're uncertain about his intentions.

Wyden's speech to the insurers was a targeted appeal, different from the talks I've seen him give before. “I believe that the success of health care reform hinges to a great extent on how your profession responds to the efforts of a new president and a new Congress," he said. "If your profession decides – as it did in 1993 and 1994 – to go out and spend millions of dollars fighting to preserve the status quo, you may delay reform for awhile but you will increase the likelihood of a government run health system with no role for the private sector.”

One of the themes of today's meeting, reflected in every speech and many of the questions, was that the insurers are fiercely cognizant that their industry is about as popular as a skin lesion, and if the system collapses, it will collapse, first, atop them. People like doctors, they need hospitals, and they depend on pharmaceuticals. They don't need insurers. Blocking reform may be in their power, but if the delay only leads to an eventual catastrophe, it might also seal their eventual demise. So that was point one: Get on-board now, or risk being thrown under the bus later.

Wyden reached out in friendship to the insurers:

Two other points are worth remarking on. Wyden worked hard not to blame insurers for their worst practices. he blamed their markets. He blamed their "stockholders and fiduciaries" who demand this behavior from them. He sympathized with their predicament. And he ended by offering them a way out. "I would like to challenge you –in a context where all Americans would have coverage—to move away from some of the old practices of denying coverage and spending buckets of time scouring people’s health history, Certainly this can’t be the most rewarding part of your job and I am certain you will go home at the end of the day happier if you spend more of your time managing care and promoting prevention.” One of the advantages of this solution, he promised, would be that “you won’t be the political football anymore. We’ll say we’re in this together, and everyone has to accept some changes.” Nobody likes to be hated, as it turns out. Not even the insurance industry. Wyden isn't merely offering them a compromise. He's dangling a chance at redemption.

You can find the text of Wyden's speech here. Read the rest and comment over at The American Prospect.


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