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Insurers’ reform assurance questioned

Industry says it wants health care reform, too, but seems poised for further attacks.

WASHINGTON — Health insurers insist they’re still committed to getting a health care overhaul bill passed this year. But all around Washington, people are wondering if — or when — the industry will change its mind and try to kill it.

The industry’s chief lobbyist, Karen Ignagni, said Thursday that insurers “can continue to make a major contribution” to the overhaul effort. She told a gathering of the trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans: “Yes, we can achieve reform.”

But her comments came in the midst of mounting tensions between her industry and majority Democrats and on the heels of months in which President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders have painted insurers as a chief villain in the health overhaul effort.

“They want us where they’ve put us right now, which is as an enemy,” Steven Champlin, a former House Democratic aide-turned-lobbyist advising the insurance group, told those at Thursday’s conference. Even so, he added, “You have to stay focused on being part of the process and part of the solution.”

Some in Washington, though, are not sure the insurance industry will stay on that path much longer. They argue that Democrats’ nonstop attacks make it obvious the industry has already been carved out of the legislative process — unlike the pharmaceutical industry, hospitals and doctors, with whom lawmakers are working.

There have been signs insurers already are on the attack.

Ignagni’s group released two reports earlier this month saying families’ insurance costs would rise under provisions of a version of health overhaul drawn up by the Senate Finance Committee. Ignagni’s group also aired a TV ad in six states saying older peoples’ benefits under Medicare Advantage, a privately administered form of the program, would be threatened.

Firing back, Democrats have begun pushing legislation through Congress erasing insurers’ federal antitrust exemption. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday she’ll include the provision in her chamber’s health overhaul bill, which she and other Democratic leaders are still crafting.

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