When given the chance to take part in the creation of the Affordable Care Act, America’s highly profitable health-insurance industry didn’t have to think twice.
Led by Karen Ignagni, the president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s loudest voice in Washington, AHIP pulled up a chair at the White House table that eventually would slice up a pie worth hundreds of billions of dollars over the next few decades.
For this she has drawn the ire of tea party Republicans and other true believers in an unfettered free market. But unlike her counterparts in the pharmaceutical industry, she acted in the clear and evident self-interests of all Americans — not just the companies who pay her salary.
Under the Obama administration’s “pay-to-play” rules, AHIP and its members forked over more than $10 million, mostly to Democratic senators and House members.
It was a brilliant strategy that gave AHIP a seat at the high-stakes poker table and allowed them to sit in at hundreds of White House and Department of Health and Human Services conferences that eventually shaped the massive 2,000-plus pages of legislation that became the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act.
By choosing to be present at the beginning rather than being a bystander, Ignagni gave the nation’s health-care insurers a better-than-even shot at being allowed to sell coverage to the 16 million to 20 million-plus uninsured Americans now slated for coverage under Obamacare.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, trying to round-up a key 60th Senate vote for the sweeping legislation in May 2010, famously said: “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it.” Unlike Pelosi, Ignagni knew exactly what was in the law; after all, she took part in all the major deliberations that led to its enactment.
Ironically, Ignagi is now coming under fire from some members of the health-insurance industry, who accuse the administration of issuing regulations that belie assurances AHIP received when it was a major player in the crafting of the legislation.
There are some cynical whispers among health-care insurance executives that the reform was set up to fail, setting the stage for Democrats to argue it didn’t work because negotiators tried too hard to appease private-sector kingpins like Big Insurance and Big Pharma.
There’s a possibility, of course, that the health-care insurers may have been gulled by the administration so it could move on to its true goal — a universal, single-payer system similar to those in Canada and the United Kingdom.
Ironically, insurers did the right thing for all Americans, by backing legislation that ultimately will improve the health of everyone.