March 25, 2009

Here's the question: Do we ignore the fact that because other countries don't have for-profit systems, they enjoy what is to Americans an almost unimaginable degree of medical security?

Or should we welcome this apparent change of heart and look at it in a vacuum, pretending the insurance industry doesn't have a long and ugly track record of egregious abuses and immoral behavior? Should we just call a mulligan and pretend they're now negotiating in good faith?

Because really, I'm not feeling it. I'm just not that trusting. I believe Howard Dean when he says, "If there's no public plan, it's not real reform":

WASHINGTON —The health insurance industry said Tuesday that it was willing to end the practice of charging higher premiums to sick people if Congress adopted a comprehensive plan that provided coverage to all Americans.

The industry’s flexible position on the issue came as a surprise to lawmakers, and could make it easier to reach an agreement in Congress because it narrows the issues on which insurers are ready to fight the Democrats who control Congress and the White House.

Insurers said they were still staunchly opposed to creation of a new government-run health insurance plan, which, under many Democratic proposals, would compete directly with private insurers.

In effect, insurers said they were willing to discard an element of their longstanding business model, under which insurance policies are priced, in part, on the basis of a person’s medical condition or history.

In the past, insurers have warned that if they could not consider a person’s health in setting premiums, the rates charged to young, healthy people would soar, making coverage unaffordable.

But Karen M. Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a major trade group, told lawmakers on Tuesday that insurers were exploring ideas to prevent such increases by spreading the risks and costs across a larger population of both healthy and unhealthy people.

Insurers said that they could accept more aggressive regulation of not just their premiums but also their benefits, underwriting practices and other activities. Such strict regulation, they said, would make a new public program unnecessary.

The insurers set forth their position at a Senate hearing on Tuesday and in letters to the Democratic chairmen and senior Republican members of the two Senate committees primarily responsible for health care legislation.

The letters were signed by Ms. Ignagni and Scott P. Serota, president of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.

Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, who presided over the hearing, welcomed the insurers’ position.

“It was a significant step for them to take,” Mr. Bingaman said in an interview. “That’s certainly not been their position in previous years. I hope it moves us closer to something that we could label a consensus.”

In other words, they'll accept just about anything that won't put these devoted lovers of the free market in competition with a government-run program like Medicare. And after all, we don't want to hurt their feelings!

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