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Insurers back health reform foes

By Jay MacDonald · Bankrate.com
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Posted: 10 am ET

Despite their attempts to appear above the fray over health care reform, America's major health insurance companies were donating behind the scenes to Republican lawmakers who vowed to repeal President Barack Obama's landmark legislation, according to a new report.

America's 11 largest health insurers and their trade group, America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), donated a combined $10.2 million to federal lawmakers, nearly two-thirds going to politicians working to overturn "Obamacare," according to the Center for Public Integrity, or CPI, a nonprofit, nonpartisan Washington, D.C.-based news organization.

The CPI report was based on Federal Election Commission donation filings from January 2007 to August 2012. Companies studied included Aetna, Humana, UnitedHealth Group, WellPoint and others that represent more than one-third of the U.S. health insurance market.

Among the Republicans who received political action committee (PAC) donations from the health insurers were House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia ($257,500); House Ways and Means Committee Chairman David Camp of Michigan ($234,600); House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio ($209,500); Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah ($151,500); House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California ($149,700) and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, current Republican nominee for vice president ($187,000). The top recipient among Democrats was Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana ($142,400).

CPI notes that at least two industry leaders -- former Aetna CEO Ron Williams and AHIP president Karen Ignagni -- publicly supported health care reform, even as their PACs were donating to candidates who were fighting to overturn it.

Insurers have walked a fine line on health care reform, both during the two years leading up to passage of the 2010 Affordable Care Act and during the two years of turmoil that followed, as more than half the states rebelled and forced the Supreme Court to ultimately rule on (and largely uphold) the law last summer.

Had Big Insurance come out strongly in opposition to the legislation, it risked losing its seat at the bargaining table while the details were being hammered out. And while the companies opposed some of the act's features -- such as no-extra-cost preventive screenings, elimination of lifetime benefit caps, and penalties for excessive administrative costs and executive bonuses -- they were quite receptive to the so-called "individual mandate" that requires most Americans to obtain health insurance, a provision that stands to send millions of new customers their way.

Ironically, the individual mandate was the very provision that caused the states to rebel in the first place, a turn of events that further narrowed the fine line that health insurance companies were already walking.

Insurance industry consultant Bob Laszewski says the ironies may come full circle this November if GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney gets a chance to make good on his promise to suspend health care reform, including the individual mandate, on his first day in office.

"If Romney wins, I think you’re going to see the insurance industry very concerned about Republicans trying to choke health care reform,” he told CPI.

Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus.

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