Connecticut residents who believe their state should be the first in the nation to set up a public health insurance option to compete with private insurers should brace themselves for what will be a beautifully packaged, seemingly well-researched study from the insurance industry to convince them otherwise.
America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), a big Washington-based lobbying group, last week told Connecticut lawmakers (pdf) that -- surprise, surprise -- they would be making a very big mistake if they approved funding to get the public option, called SustiNet, up and running. AHIP said it had hired "a well-known consulting firm" to produce a study that would support the conclusions the industry had already reached about SustiNet. AHIP even had the audacity to claim that said study would be an "objective analysis."
Having served for years as a member of AHIP's strategic communications committee, I know first-hand how the group uses what it purports to be objective research to scare people away from reforms insurers think might reduce their profits.
There are two things lawmakers can be certain of. One, "the study" they will get from AHIP, which was behind the successful effort to keep the federal government from creating a public option, will be anything but objective. And two, it will be the centerpiece of a multi-pronged strategic effort to scare people into believing, erroneously, that SustiNet will cost jobs, lead to higher taxes and bring to an abrupt halt the "market-based solutions" AHIP maintains insurers have brought to Connecticut.
What market-based solutions? More than 12 percent of Connecticut residents are uninsured, one of the highest rates in New England. An ever-growing number of small businesses are dropping coverage because of constant rate increases. And thousands of residents can't buy coverage at any price because of the insurers' "market-based solution" of refusing to sell policies to people with pre-existing conditions.
As an example of what to expect, lawmakers in Connecticut should look at how AHIP tried to fool people with an "objective" study it paid PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) to do in late 2009 shortly before the U.S. Senate voted on health care reform. Unhappy with parts of the bill, AHIP hired PWC to conduct an analysis of the legislation to "prove" that the bill would actually increase -- not decrease -- health care costs. Journalists and Congressional staffers who did a little digging learned that AHIP had instructed PWC to ignore the parts of the bill that would save money. It was a classic example of how to lie with statistics.
Connecticut lawmakers can expect AHIP, which has a lot of money and clout but little credibility, to try to pull the same stunt in Hartford. They owe it to their constituents not to buy the bill of goods AHIP will be selling.