It looks like the President has learned the lesson here: the insurance companies were never on the White House's side. When it became clear that this time reform could really happen, they kicked into attack mode.
In unusually harsh terms, Mr. Obama cast insurance companies as obstacles to change interested only in preserving their own “profits and bonuses” and willing to “bend the truth or break it” to stop his drive to remake the nation’s health care system. The president used his weekly radio and Internet address to challenge industry assertions that legislation will drive up premiums.
“It’s smoke and mirrors,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s bogus. And it’s all too familiar. Every time we get close to passing reform, the insurance companies produce these phony studies as a prescription and say, ‘Take one of these, and call us in a decade.’ Well, not this time.”
Rather than trying to curb costs and help patients, he said, the industry is busy “figuring out how to avoid covering people.”
“And they’re earning these profits and bonuses while enjoying a privileged exemption from our antitrust laws,” he said, “a matter that Congress is rightfully reviewing.”The president’s attack underscores the sharp break between the White House and the insurance industry as the health care debate moves closer to a climax. When Mr. Obama took office, he and his advisers had hoped to keep insurers at the table to forge a consensus. But as the months passed, the strains grew — until this past week, when industry-financed studies attacking the Democratic plan signaled an open rupture.
Glad to see Obama is not backing down. But this legislation is out of his hands. Will the rest of the Dems in Congress get that same message? Doubtful. After all, it'll only take one net vote with the Party of No to filibuster the legislation.
Do you think the insurance companies can get one Democrat to defect? Ask yourselves this: why haven't we seen real health care reform in this country before now?
The answers to both those questions are interlocked. But Obama is playing the kind of hardball needed to win.
His signal of support for reviewing the industry’s antitrust exemption put him in league with Democratic leaders in Congress pushing for repeal or revision of the McCarran-Ferguson Act, which was passed in 1945 to keep regulation of insurers in the hands of the states. Although he did not explicitly endorse overturning it, a spokesman said it was the first time he had raised the matter publicly as president.Obama has to be careful here. He's certainly upped the ante this weekend. The insurance companies will respond.
Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, testified at a Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday in favor of getting rid of the exemption. A day later, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House speaker, said, “There is tremendous interest in our caucus” in such a move.
Sooner or later one side will have to go all in...or fold.