George Graham

It’s Time for Congress to Stop Trying to Please Health Insurers

baucusSurprise! America’s health insurance barons are unhappy with the bill being voted on today by the Senate Finance Committee. Considering they pretty much own Max Baucus (photo at right), the Montana senator who piloted the bill through the committee, and that they dictated most of its provisions, you would think they would be smiling all the way to the bank. But no; they want more.

As I understand it, the main bone of contention is the amount that Americans would be fined if they don’t buy health insurance. The way the insurance industry wrote it, the bill included a fine of more than a thousand dollars for each uninsured adult , but an Oct. 1 amendment trimmed the penalty to zero in 2013, $200 in 2014, $400 in 2015, and $750 by 2017.

That’s just not enough to satisfy the insurance profiteers. It would be cheaper to pay the fines than the premiums, and they would lose a lot of healthy customers. Naturally, that would cut into the companies’ profits.

“If the mandate is not strong enough, why would a healthy 24-year-old buy insurance if they’re not buying it today?” says Frank Cote, senior director of government relations for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, the state’s largest health insurer. “The fear of any insurer is if the mandate is not strong enough, then the new mix of insured will be mostly unhealthy people – and that will increase the cost of insurance.”

The companies aren’t about to let their profits dwindle; they would raise premiums across the board to make up for the extra liability. A report commissioned by the industry warns that in 2019 the typical family premium could cost $4,000 more a year than projected.

ignagniKaren Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans (shown talking with reporters at left), has refused to rule out TV ads that would cite the report to attack the Baucus bill. A Baucus spokesman called the report a “hatchet job,” and a lot of Democrats are challenging its validity. But I think they’re missing the point.

Obviously, the Baucus bill is a bonanza for private health insurers. It mandates that everyone in America buy their product or pay a fine. It includes no requirements on how much of an insurer’s income must be paid out in claims and no government-run plan to compete with private companies. And it gives companies the freedom to peddle their policies accross state lines, which they can’t do now.

“(The bill) won’t actually curtail the insurance industry abuses, while mandating that people buy their product,” says Quentin Young, national coordinator for Physicians for a National Health Program, which prefers government-sponsored coverage for all. “The entire bill, in essence, is written for the benefit of the insurance industry.”

Yet it’s just not enough to satisfy the insurers. Their objective is to “maximize profits” not provide coverage for the American public.

Maybe, just maybe, the members of Congress will finally get the point. No reasonable health reform bill will meet the industry’s approval. The companies expect far too much in return for the millions they contributed to politicians’ campaign funds.

It’s time for our elected representatives to stop kowtowing to the industry and concentrate on serving the public. It’s time to concede that the Baucus bill is a failure and enact something sensible, something that provides a government-run alternative to private health insurance.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for