Backing Health Insurance Profits

StethoscopeHealth insurance costs have steadily mushroomed for three decades. Yet over the past year the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which purports to represent 3 million businesses (but in fact represents 10% of that number, at most), did everything in its power to defeat reform.

In 2009, during the health care reform debate, the U.S. Chamber spent more than $24 million over a 30-day period on ads that shamelessly spread reckless lies about what was in the bill. The ads claimed it would cost jobs and increase the deficit, despite a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate that the cost-controls in the legislation would save taxpayers $138 billion in the first decade and over a trillion dollars in its second decade.  But taxpayers and small business weren’t really who the U.S. Chamber was speaking for.  It was later revealed by the National Journal  and then Bloomberg that the nation’s largest insurers, including Aetna, Cigna, UnitedHealth Group and WellPoint, secretly funded the campaign. 

AHIP Logo "Health Insurers [in 2009]...gave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce $86.2 million that was used to oppose the health-care overhaul law..." -Bloomberg, 11/17/10 

In fact the U.S. Chamber would stop at nothing to make sure that the truth didn’t get in the way of its argument.  When faced with facts that health reform would expand coverage and cut costs, it hatched a scheme to hire a “respected economist” to produce a study with a pre-determined outcome, that could then be used to portray health care reform legislation as a job killer than would destroy the U.S. economy. The U.S. Chamber also proclaimed that 88 million Americans would lose their employer-provided health coverage under reform, without revealing that the bogus claim was based on a study conducted by an affiliate of UnitedHealth Group and relied on a provision that was no longer in the bill.

After its deceitful campaign was defeated, the U.S. Chamber began raising money for a backwards-looking effort to thwart implementation. The Chamber claimed it would spend $50 million on a fall 2010 ad blitz to “sway election outcomes around the issue,” according to the Wall Street Journal, and later and later increased that pledge to $75 million.

The U.S. Chamber’s election year effort to undermine reform was in line with its longstanding push to prop up profits for insurers and drug companies while denying care to those in need. For example, the U.S. Chamber opposed expanding the popular state Children’s Health Insurance Programs and fought efforts to ensure parity for mental health services.

And, the U.S. Chamber ignored the mainstream business community consensus that something had to be done about the nation’s out-of-control costs. General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt called the Chamber’s anti-reform campaign “lunacy.” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts called the December 2009 legislation passed by the Senate Finance Committee – the framework for the final bill – “critical” to prosperity. “We clearly don’t agree (with the U.S. Chamber) on health care,” he said.

The Business Roundtable, whose roster includes America’s largest corporations, publicly praised health care reform legislation, noting it “could potentially reduce the trend line by more than $3,000 per employee.” A number of local Chambers of Commerce, including those in Greater New York and San Francisco, also endorsed reform.