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Profile: Robert Zirkelbach
Robert Zirkelbach was a participant or observer in the following events:
The lobbying group America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), funded by nearly 1,300 health care providers and other medical companies, urges its members’ employees to, in AHIP’s words, “GO TO TOWN MEETINGS WITH MEMBERS OF CONGRESS IN AUGUST TO CONFRONT THEM on House Democrats’ top recess message—that health reform legislation is ‘health insurance reform to hold insurance companies accountable’” (all caps from the source). AHIP plans on releasing negative television ads opposing the Obama administration’s health care reform proposals. According to AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach: “The American people want Washington to focus on solutions, not the same old divisive political rhetoric that hasn’t worked in the past. Our industry has offered to completely transform how health insurance is provided today. We have stepped up to do our part to make health care reform a reality. That’s an INCONVENIENT FACT that some people have chosen to ignore. These attacks are politically motivated, and they ignore the significant commitment that our industry has made to the health reform process. WE’RE GOING TO BE VERY ACTIVE. We have people on the ground in more than 30 states. There are thousands of industry employees WHO HAVE NOW HAD THEIR INTEGRITY CALLED INTO QUESTION. They want to have their voices heard as part of this. We have contacted all of our member companies and encouraged them to get involved. August is a great time because of the face-to-face interaction with members.” [Campaign for an American Solution, 8/2/2009]
BlueCross BlueShield logo. [Source: TopNews (.us)]Health insurers have mobilized tens of thousands of employees to fight against the Democrats’ health care reform initiative, according to reports by the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal. The insurance industry’s primary motive seems to be financial gain, according to the Times reporters. Many of the nation’s largest insurers, including UnitedHealth, have urged their employees to become involved in protesting health care reform, and provided advocacy “hot line” telephone numbers, printed “talking points,” sample “letters to the editor,” and other materials in almost every Congressional district throughout the nation. And many insurers, including BlueCross Blue Shield, have sponsored anti-reform television ads targeting conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats, many of whom are considered vulnerable to pressure from the industry. The insurance industry is paying for over 900 lobbyists, spending $35 million in the first half of 2009 lobbying Congress and the White House. AFL-CIO spokesman Gerald Shea says: “They have beaten us six ways to Sunday. Any time we want to make a small change to provide cost relief, they find a way to make it more profitable.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/24/2009; Wall Street Journal, 8/24/2009]
Jamming the 'Town Halls' - Insurers like UnitedHealth and others are sending their employees to “town hall” meetings to protest against reform. The Journal reports, “[T]he industry employees come armed with talking points about the need for bipartisan legislation and the unintended consequences of a government-run health plan to compete with private insurers.” But they are instructed not to become contentious and argumentative, according to a “Town Hall Tips” memo provided by the industry’s chief lobbying organization, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP—see Before August 6, 2009). The memo warns those attending the meetings to expect criticism, and to stay calm. “It is important not to take the bait,” the memo cautions. AHIP president Karen Ignagni says the town hall meetings are an opportunity “to strongly push back against charges that we have very high profits. It’s very important that our men and women… calmly provide the facts and for members of Congress to hear what these people do every day.” Larry Loew, who works for the insurance administration firm Cornerstone Group, says he attended a recent town hall meeting hosted by Representative Alan Mollohan (D-WV) because “my whole industry is being threatened.” Loew claims he was not coached by AHIP, but admits to preparing for the meeting by gathering talking points from hospital and insurance company Web sites. AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach says about 50,000 employees have been engaged in writing letters and making phone calls to politicians or attending town hall meetings. [Wall Street Journal, 8/24/2009]
'Hallelujah!' - One industry proposal that is gaining traction among some in Congress is the so-called “individual mandate,” which would require all citizens to buy some form of health insurance. That provision would guarantee insurers tens of millions of new customers—many of which would receive government subsidies to help pay the premiums. Robert Laszewski, a former health insurance executive who now heads the consulting firm Health Policy and Strategy Associates, says of the provision, “It’s a bonanza.” The industry’s reaction to early negotiations can, Laszewski says, be summed up in a single word: “Hallelujah!” Linda Blumberg, a health policy analyst at the nonpartisan Urban Institute, says, “The insurers are going to do quite well” with health care reform. “They are going to have this very stable pool, they’re going to have people getting subsidies to help them buy coverage, and… they will be paid the full costs of the benefits that they provide—plus their administrative costs.” Aetna’s chief executive, Ron Williams, says: “We have to get everyone into the insurance market. That is a huge, big deal [and] everyone has coalesced around that.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/24/2009; Wall Street Journal, 8/24/2009]
Battling the Public Option, - Insurers have fought most strongly against the so-called “public option,” which would create a government-run, non-profit alternative to private health insurance. Some polls are showing public support for the public option has declined, and stock prices for the insurance corporations have tracked upwards. Other insurance industry proposals are gaining ground. The Senate Finance Committee is considering a proposal to lower the proposed mandatory reimbursement rate for insurers to policyholders from 76 percent to 65 percent, and the industry is pressuring Congress to lower the limit that insurers must meet to cover a policyholder’s medical bills, leaving more of the money it gleans from premiums as profits. “These are a bad deal for consumers,” says J. Robert Hunter, a former Texas insurance commissioner who works with the Consumer Federation of America. Insurance companies would reap huge profits by providing less insurance “per premium dollar,” he says. Former Cigna executive Wendell Potter says, “It would be quite a windfall” for the insurance industry. [Los Angeles Times, 8/24/2009]
Entity Tags: Consumer Federation of America, UnitedHealth Group, Urban Institute, Wall Street Journal, BlueCross Blue Shield, Alan Mollohan, Senate Finance Committee, AFL-CIO, Aetna, America’s Health Insurance Plans, Wendell Potter, Robert Laszewski, Health Policy and Strategy Associates, Gerald Shea, Cornerstone Group, J. Robert Hunter, Robert Zirkelbach, Ron Williams, Linda Blumberg, Karen Ignagni, Larry Loew, Los Angeles Times
Timeline Tags: US Health Care
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