TIME’s Sophia Yan has a dispatch from the frontlines of the PR war underway in the health care reform debate.
It’s now or never for health care reform and all interested parties know it — including Health Care for America Now, a grassroots reform advocacy group. In the past year, HCAN has urged Americans to come forward with stories about how they’ve been hurt by insurance companies, bringing real life voices to the debate. The group even helped unveil Wendell Potter, the former CIGNA vice president-turned-whistleblower. Calling the industry “spinmeisters,” Potter said this morning – in a call with reporters – “Those companies are accountable first and foremost to their shareholders and they’ll promise to take anything it takes to please [them].”
But like every other special interest group, HCAN has a big stake in this. And in these final days, the group is making a renewed push to paint the health insurance industry as a heartless machine purely motivated by profits.
An HCAN report released this morning presents the argument that rapidly rising health insurance premiums are uncalled for and unjustified – and the ones impacted are sick Americans. Strong statistics back up this point – the report notes that, in the past 10 years, premiums for families on employer-provided health plans increased 97 percent, while premiums for individuals increased 90 percent. While the insurance industry has partly blamed rising medical inflation for these increases, the report shows that premium increases have far outpaced medical costs, which have gone up 39 percent during the same period.
What’s most outrageous, HCAN says, is that premiums are being hiked to pad profits, not pay for more medical care. “In 1993, 95 percent of premiums went to medical costs, but by 2007, that number dropped to 85%, a huge decrease,” HCAN’s national campaign manager Richard Kirsch said this morning one the call with reporters. “From 2000 to 2008, the ten largest for-profit health insurers paid their CEOs a total of $691 million,” Kirsch said.
But in its report, HCAN doesn’t really address another counter-argument from America’s Health Insurance Plans, which represents the insurance industry. “Health insurance premiums are increasing in the individual market because of soaring medical costs and because younger and healthier people are dropping their coverage due to the economy,” reads a statement released two weeks ago. When young healthy people forgo insurance in a recession, the overall coverage group that’s left is “sicker,” and more expensive to insure.When I asked HCAN to respond to this, the group stuck to its overall message of premiums rather than addressing the skewed coverage pool, saying that rising premiums made it difficult for younger people, often in lower-paying jobs, to purchase insurance.