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Potter: 'Disrupt' the new buzzword of Obamacare opponents

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Disruption.

Get ready to hear that word many times in the coming weeks, especially if you hang out inside the Washington beltway.

"Disruption" will be the new buzzword in an upcoming advertising campaign aimed at scaring us. The campaign is selling the idea  that millions of Americans will face higher premiums and possibly be forced into health plans with skimpier benefits — , i.e., disrupted — if Congress doesn't repeal a provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that raises money to pay for expanding coverage for the uninsured.  

The greed of the health insurance industry knows no bounds. Insurance companies will get billions of dollars in new revenue every year as a result of the health act's requirement that, starting in 2014, we will have to buy coverage from private insurers if we're not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 32 million uninsured Americans will finally get coverage as a result of the law. While many will be newly eligible for the Medicaid program, millions of others will get subsidies from the federal government to help them buy private insurance. So insurance companies will get new premium revenue not only from individuals and families but also from the government.

To help finance this expanded coverage, the ACA includes a premium fee on insurers and their business customers that provide the highest level of coverage (like the so-called Cadillac plans). The fee, which is estimated to raise $87 billion over ten years, will go into effect simultaneously with the individual mandate.  

Even though insurers will get a huge infusion of cash from us and the government over that period, they are claiming it's not fair for them have to foot any of the bill. They insist they'll have  no choice but to pass the fee — which they call a tax — on to their policyholders. In other words, they're not happy enough with the cake the government is giving them. They want to eat every crumb of it, too.

There will be little evidence, of course, that insurance firms are  behind this campaign. To obscure their involvement, insurers have enlisted the support of the same allies they have called upon in the past to front for them — including the National Federation of Independent Business, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

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I know this from working with those same groups in another insurance-industry funded front group — the Health Benefits Coalition — that employed the same tactics a decade ago when insurers were trying to kill the Patients' Bill of Rights. That coalition succeeded by convincing lawmakers that giving patients more rights, especially allowing them to sue insurers for refusing to pay for needed care, would cause premiums to skyrocket.

Like the Health Benefits Coalition, which was operated out of the offices of a Washington PR firm, the Stop The HIT (health insurance tax) Coalition, is warning of dire consequences, including, yes, skyrocketing premiums, if the fee is not abolished. This time they've thrown in the term "disruption" for good measure — and because it undoubtedly tested well in focus groups.

Here's what Heidi Margulis, senior vice president for public affairs at Humana and a former colleague of mine, was quoted as telling Wall Street financial analysts at the company's investor conference last week:

"I've been involved in politics for years and disruption is a really bad word. I think you'll hear more on the airwaves during this period of time, the lame duck, about the impact of the premium tax."

Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, also seems to believe that disruption is a really scary word. Here's what she said on Bloomberg TV's "Capitol Gains" earlier this month:

"When we look at health reform we look at it through the prism of affordability and disruption. It means making sure that care is affordable a year from now and making sure that employers who are providing coverage and individuals who are buying are not disrupted."

Margulis went on to tell the analysts that the industry anti-"disruption" campaign would be led by Stop The HIT because insurance companies "are not the best purveyors of that message, perhaps."

Like the HBC and many other front groups, the Stop The HIT Coalition operates out of a public affairs shop on K Street. The coalition's phone number is also the number for JDA Frontline, a firm formed by Republican political operatives. It is also the DC number for the office of Republican political strategist Ed Gillespie. The coalition's media contact, Molly Pacela, is also director of public affairs at JDA and former media relations director at the Republican National Committee.

Don't let these people scare you. Their real agenda is to prevent any disruption in profits.

Reprinted by permission of The Center for Public Integrity.

Following a 20-year career as a corporate public relations executive, Potter left his position as head of communications for CIGNA, one of the nation’s largest health insurers, to show the world the dark inner workings of the insurance industry.

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