Thursday, October 22, 2009

AHIP Lobbyist To GOP: Don't Give "Comfort To The Enemy" On Health Care

Sam Stein fills us in on what's happening at AHIP's annual State Issues Conference:

A top lobbyist for the major private insurance industry trade group, America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), urged Congressional Republicans to not even consider helping Democrats pass health care reform lest they aid an 'enemy who is down.'

Steve Champlin, a lobbyist for the Duberstein Group who represents AHIP, declared that the road to a bipartisan health care reform bill was, essentially, dead. And he urged GOP members to keep it that way.

"There is absolutely no interest, no reason Republicans should ever vote for this thing. They have gone from a party that got killed 11 months ago to a party that is rising today. And they are rising up on the turmoil of health care," said Champlin. "So when they vote for a health care reform bill, whatever it is, they are giving comfort to the enemy who is down."

Dan Meyer, another Duberstein Group employee and former Bush administration official was also a speaker at the event.
Champlin, in particular, was caustic in discussing how the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress had framed the debate. They are, he said trying to "motivate change through creating an enemy. And the enemy is the insurance company."

"To pass health care that means change and to motivate change through creating an enemy and the enemy is the insurance company," he said. "You see that. We see that because we have been buy trying to work this thing out... it turns out they are completely uninterested in working it out. So they want us where they've put us right now, which is an enemy. My concern about this is that while they got polling data that says that's where they want to be, that they got us where they want to put us. I'm not really convinced that's where the American people want to be."

Added Meyer: "The debate as we were leading into the August break was getting cast... in a way that folks who oppose dramatic health care reform have been successful in the past which is [arguing] that this is a government takeover... My view was there was a strategic decision made. Those who are pushing this cannot tolerate it being framed that way... so the best way to [change] that was to demonize the health insurance industry... It was a strategic very conscious decision."

Champlin, according to a review of lobbying records, was paid at least $400,000 by AHIP in 2008 and the same amount so far this year to lobby on health care related issues.

An Important Piece From Think Progress:
ThinkProgress spoke with Wendell Potter, a former VP of communications at health insurance giant CIGNA, about exactly how insurance companies derail reform and preserve the status quo. Working in public relations for CIGNA, Potter had a direct role in multiple campaigns in the past to minimize public outrage at insurance company abuses, defeat legislation aimed at regulating insurers, and the massive effort to discredit Michael Moore and his movie SiCKO. In addition to enormous amounts of money spent in direct lobbying and campaign contributions, Potter spelled out exactly how insurance companies have prepared to defeat meaningful reform.

Planned well before this year, insurance company CEOs, like Potter’s former boss at CIGNA H. Edward Hadway, formed a group called the Strategic Communications Committee to develop effective messages and strategy for the industry. Organized through AHIP, the lobbying front for insurance companies, the committee would work with large public relations companies to devise a two-pronged, “duplicitous campaign.” Because insurance companies suffer from low public approval, Potter said, the industry would present itself as “for reform” to the public, yet at the same time label proponents of meaningful reform as “extreme.” The public campaign is for the most part positive, and largely delivered by industry representatives like AHIP chief lobbyist Karen Ignagni. Potter noted:

It’s really a duplicitous PR campaign. They will talk about, in broad terms, how supportive they are of health care reform, but they will be working behind the scenes to kill very, very crucial parts of reform legislation like the public option.

Potter then explained how insurers would use a variety of front groups, set up by PR companies like APCO, to advance a hidden attack campaign. The “dirty” campaign involved feeding talking points to right-wing media, like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. It also includes the creation of front groups to run negative advertisements about reform and mobilize anti-reform “grassroots” groups. Finally, insurers would coordinate with, and sometimes fund, conservative think-tanks to produce academic-appearing reports to advance their cause. Leaked memos from the insurance companies — regarding the campaign against Moore’s SiCKO movie — not only support Potter’s assertions, but specifically describe every step of this process.

Please read the rest of the great information provided by Think Progress if you have not already done so.

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