Personal Health

Are We Going to Let Health Industry Propaganda Derail Obama's Plans for Reform?

Millions of dollars will be poured into deceptive media ads by the health care industry -- will you step up to stop them?

Editor's note:Click hereto help fight Blue Cross and Blue Shield's deceptive campaign to undermine real health care reform!

The health industry is preparing to launch a lie-packed propaganda campaign in an attempt to rip the heart out of President Barack Obama’s plans for an overhaul of our health care system.  

Reports of the campaign come just a week after the health care lobby joined with SEIU to make a weak, unenforceable "commitment" to reduce the spiraling rate of health care costs to "only" 50 percent above the average growth rate of the economy overall. 

Big Health said it wanted to be a proactive partner with a "seat at the table"; it’s remarkable how quickly it has shown that its true intent was to derail any serious attempt at reform from a cozy place on the inside of the process.  

Only three days after Obama hailed the health lobbyists’ proposal as a breakthrough in the battle for reform, Big Health was already backing away from its vague and noncommittal "commitment."

According to the New York Times, "Hospitals and insurance companies said … that President Obama had substantially overstated their promise earlier this week to reduce the growth of health spending." Richard Pollack, the executive vice president of the American Hospital Association, one of the industry groups that made the proposal, stated definitively that Big Health "did not support reducing the rate of health spending by 1.5 percentage points annually" as had been widely reported. 

And now we can look forward to a reprise of the infamously dishonest "Harry and Louise" PR campaign that derailed Bill Clinton’s attempt to get the bloated rip-off we call a health care system under control, courtesy of one of the biggest players in the insurance business.

The Washington Post reports that Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina -- the state’s largest insurer, handling almost $11 billion in claims last year -- is preparing a series of ads invoking the bogeyman of a government-run health system in which faceless bureaucrats make health care decisions, people with pre-existing conditions are denied care, and Americans are left to die waiting for urgently needed procedures.  

The reality is that the ability to choose your own insurance and see whatever doctor you like is at the heart of Obama’s proposed reforms. What’s more, it’s the private insurers that need to cherry-pick healthier people and deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions in order to turn a profit.

In fact, in 2005 the state of North Carolina forced BCBS (among other insurers) to pay millions for claims it had wrongly rejected. And the watchdog group Media Matters quoted a report from the Charlotte Observer that noted: "Consumer advocates argue that insurers use vague contract language as grounds to deny payment and save themselves money." 

What gives the health lobby night sweats is a proposal to add a publicly run insurance plan open to everyone who wants in to our current mix of employer-based insurance, Medicare and Medicaid. The lobbyists' argument against it is perfectly contradictory: They say that a public insurance option would, A) be a disaster for patients and doctors, and B) they could never hope to compete with it.

A spokesman for Blue Cross told reporters, "We believe an unchecked government-run plan would lower payment to doctors and hospitals, forcing them to attempt to charge private insurers more and thus further eliminate private insurers' ability to compete against the government."  

There’s no small amount of irony in that claim -- it was BCBG of North Carolina that in 2007 lost a $128 million class-action suit for fraudulently underpaying physicians. According to the Durham Herald Sun, "Numerous state medical societies, including the N.C. Medical Society, were involved in the lawsuit, which charged that North Carolina Blue Cross and other Blues plans harmed doctors with unfair business practices that denied and delayed payments for medical care. ... The complaint identified numerous Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans as defendants in an alleged scheme to defraud doctors in violation of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act." 

That’s the insurance industry that’s offering to "fix" American health care while trying to kill any possibility of substantial reform -- racketeers.  

Last week I wrote, "No One’s Falling for Big Health’s Bogus Promise to 'Reform.' " It wasn’t an entirely accurate headline; by and large the commercial media, the Obama administration and many members of Congress believed it was in fact a significant step on the road to better health care. But now Big Health is showing itself to be a Trojan horse fighting for the status quo rather than a partner for reform.

So it’s time to pull that seat at the table out from under them. And you can help do exactly that.

Health Care for America Now, a coalition of organizations fighting for the public insurance option, has a variety of tools to make it easy for your voice to be heard. You can sign up for alerts, send a letter to your representatives or get involved with local actions here.

And MoveOn.org promises to "run ads, hold events and work like crazy to get the real truth out to voters." It will also "keep the pressure on Congress to make sure they don’t get bullied into gutting the president’s plan to guarantee health care coverage for everyone."

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet.
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