In November, the Democrats were on the ropes. The GOP had just elected themselves a golden child with Scott Brown and tilted the scales back below sixty votes in the Senate. They had won two gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey. The media was calling the Health Care Reform bill dead. Time between now and the next election cycle was getting shorter and the drums of defeat were beating loudly.
But then the bill got the biggest shot in the arm from the insurance companies. They increased their rates 39% in California, cut off cancer-survivors in Youngstown, Ohio, jacked up rates all over the country and even sent this poor puppy a letter that increased his health insurance costs by 21.8% over last year.
That was the second wind.
Had the health insurance companies instituted a premium freeze for 2010, not cut off existing customers regardless of circumstances and sent letters out with the message, “We’re all in this recession together, so we’re not going to increase your premiums,” they could have taken the wind right out of the sails of the Reformers. They would have convinced the average American they were not greedy, money-grubbig heartless bastards, but caring, warm folks who only had your health in their hearts.
They would have gained the entire GOP and most independents as free PR agents for their industry. “They get it, we can make a difference!” would have been the rally cry and the Obama Administration and progressive Democrats would have been left fighting an enemy that simply no longer existed. By August, the country and Congress would have been embroiled in a mid-term election with Democrats fighting to explain why they spent so much wasted time fighting the benevolent insurance companies. Most likely they would have lost a few seats and the balance of power would have tipped a bit. President Obama would have then had two years of accomplishing nothing and the insurance industry would have been healthy for the next several decades, free to plunder and pillage recklessly while Obama’s successor’s successor worked up enough public passion to start another health care reform movement.
But they didn’t. They rushed hard toward the profit line, cutting off aunt Sallie who had cancer and facing a home foreclosure. They dropped health insurance for residents in Flint, Michigan where unemployment is 27%. They continued to increase premiums an average of 22% across the country, claiming it was necessary because of rising health costs. They tightened their grip on the wallets of those lucky enough to remain employed and even tighter on the small businesses and entrepreneurs trying to weather the economic downturn and tight credit markets. And yet, they continue to post record profits.
Sometimes you have to retreat back a few steps to advance forward.
But they didn’t.
Bad business, bad public relations. On that account alone, the health insurance industry deserves to go the way of the horse buggy, passenger train and telegraph industries.