Powerful US insurers turned on President Barack Obama’s top priority health care reform drive on the eve of a key congressional committee vote, warning the plan would send family medical expenses soaring.
The White House on Monday hit back sharply at the assault, based on a report for the industry by auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), which doused hopes that the insurance lobby would not seek to block the politically perilous effort.
The PWC study concluded that a version of the bill up for a vote in the Senate Finance Committee would hike projected cost increases per family by 1,700 dollars in four years, and by 4,000 dollars over the next decade.
The America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) lobby group, which commissioned the report, argued that new taxes on health insurance plans, medical device manufacturers and pharmaceutical giants would pass on extra costs to consumers.
The insurance industry, blamed for halting a health care reform drive by former president Bill Clinton, had previously worked to influence the final bill with the White House and key Democrats in Congress.
The White House, which has waged a months-long campaign against conservative critics of its bid to make health care affordable to all Americans, quickly dismissed the credibility of the report.
“This is a self-serving analysis from the insurance industry, one of the major opponents of health insurance reform,” said Reid Cherlin, a White House spokesman.
“It comes on the eve of a vote that will reduce the industry’s profits. It is hard to take it seriously.
“The analysis completely ignores critical policies will lower costs for those that have insurance, expand coverage and provide affordable health insurance options to millions of Americans who are priced out of today’s health insurance market or are locked out by unfair insurance company practices.”
Finance Committee spokesman Scott Mulhauser meanwhile was quoted by the Washington Post as saying the health insurance lobby was resorting to a “tired playbook of deception” to thwart the health reform drive.
Obama has wagered huge political capital on the fight to pass health reform, and to offer affordable care to 46 million people in the United States with no insurance, a cause which confounded several Democratic presidents.
Should the initiative pass, in a form recognizable to the president’s campaign promises, Obama may be able to tap into a new well of political credibility and a claim to historic domestic reform.
But should the effort unexpectedly fail, despite Democratic majorities in Congress, Obama could find his political leverage and capacity to enact other elements of his sweeping agenda severely hampered.
The Senate Finance Committee was set to vote on Tuesday on its 829 billion dollar version of health care reform — one of several approaches to the issue awaiting action in the full House of Representatives and the Senate.
Last week, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) boosted the cause of health reform advocates, saying the draft Finance Committee effort would cut the US budget deficit by 81 billion dollars over 10 years.
Republicans, who have warned the bill could raise costs and increase the budget deficit, had required the budget estimate before they cast a vote.
Some Democrats, especially in the House, have still not given up the fight for a “public option” — a government-run component to compete with private health plans to bring down costs — to be included in the final draft law.
But the idea reportedly has little chance of passing the Senate, and is not included in the Finance Committee bill.
Republicans, who spent the summer fanning a furious wave of attacks on the plan, hammered the “public option” as an attempt by the Obama administration to create a state-run health care system to stealth.
With AFP – Washington, Oct 12, 2009