Why ‘Obamacare’ isn’t likely to be overturned

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Now that the GOP has taken control of the House and beefed up its ranks in the Senate, “Obamacare” will be done away with, right?

Wrong.

In fact, not even close, according to Wendell Potter’s predictions.

The former head of communication for Cigna, Potter has just authored a tell-all titled “Deadly Spin,” an account of how the insurance industry manipulated the health care debate to its advantage and why insurers, in fact, love, love, love Obama’s reforms.

Potter left his job at Cigna in 2008 because, he says, he didn’t have the stomach to be part of yet another spin campaign. He should know. Potter was part of the PR team that succeeded in killing the Clinton health care plan in the 1990s, as well as the campaign that later killed the patients’ bill of rights.

In a piece in the Nov. 15 issue of Newsweek, Potter asserts that some of the just-elected representatives in Congress will, along with other conservatives, most likely back off their pledges to try to repeal the Obama administration’s reforms.

Why?

“Because health insurers, one of Republican candidates’ biggest and most reliable benefactors, can’t survive without ‘Obamacare,’” he says.

The new law, he says, guarantees that private insurers will get billions of dollars in new revenue.

“Despite their public statements to the contrary, insurance companies really liked much of what was in both House and Senate versions of the (reform) bill — big chunks of which they actually wrote behind the scenes — especially the requirement that all Americans buy insurance if they’re not eligible for an existing public program like Medicaid or Medicare.”

That revelation really shouldn’t be much of a surprise. You needn’t have been a rocket scientist to see that mandating that more Americans be covered by insurance would mean insurers selling more policies.

So what do the insurers dislike about the reforms?

There’s no real surprise here either in Potter’s answer:

“The real reason insurers want(ed) the GOP leading Congress again is not to repeal ‘Obamacare,’ but to try to gut some of the provisions of the law that protect consumers from the abuses of the industry, such as refusing to cover kids with pre-existing conditions, canceling policyholders’ coverage when they get sick, and setting annual and lifetime limits on how much they’ll pay for medical care.

“Insurers also hate the provision that requires them to spend at least 80 percent of premium revenues on medical care, as well as the one that calls for eliminating the billions of dollars that the government has been overpaying them for years to participate in private Medicare plans. (Be on the lookout for a death panel-like fearmongering campaign to scare people into thinking, erroneously, that Granny and Pawpaw will lose their government health care if Congress doesn’t restore those ‘cuts’ to Medicare.)”

Again, if you had paid close attention to this year’s debate over the reform package, you would have gotten the gist of that.

In any case, insurers have no real reason to worry, Potter says, because they do well whenever Republicans are in charge. Their profits soared — as did the number of Americans who were uninsured and underinsured — during the Bush years and Republican control of Congress.

The bottom line? We should expect to see a huge push to repeal the consumer protections of the law but nothing to alter the mandate.

That mandate, by the way, is at the center of Colorado Attorney General John Suthers’ lawsuit challenging the law’s constitutionality.

His isn’t the only such suit working its way through the federal court system. About 20 attorneys general filed similar actions. The suits are likely to end up before the Supreme Court.

“I am not reacting to any group or constituency,” Suthers said after filing the suit. “All I can do is assure all Coloradans that my decision is based on my belief that the individual health care mandate is an unprecedented expansion of the power of the federal government that could undermine the rights of the states and their citizens for generations to come.”

Perhaps, but regardless of how you feel about the reforms, it’s clear that what the mandate expands most is the ability of insurers to maximize their profits.

Allen Greenberg is the editor of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. He can be reached at allen.greenberg@csbj.com or 719-329-5206.