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As insurance lobbyists met with practitioners, business leaders, and insurance industry representatives last week, several groups organized a protest outside of the Ritz-Carleton hotel, where America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) held its 2009 Policy Forum. Standing outside the hotel, Donna Smith, organizer for the California Nurses Association and one of the people featured in Michael Moore’s documentary Sicko told Real News her story. Meanwhile, inside, several delegates spoke of their impressions of the health care reform proposed by AHIP and that put forward by the Obama administration.

Story Transcript

Insurance lobby reform met with protest Pt.2

—to present this award to [inaudible]

TEXT ON SCREEN: On March 10, several groups protested the health insurance lobby’s 2009 Policy Forum organized by America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP).

SPEAKER: Thank you, Donna. For those of you who have not seen Michael Moore’s movie Sicko, you get to see Donna and her story and the story of many others.

TEXT ON SCREEN: The conference brought together practitioners, insurance representatives, and business heads.

SPEAKER: I would like to now introduce our next guest, who as a health-care provider reminds us that what our system is about is medical care and providing—.

DONNA SMITH, CNA: I was one of those millions of American who always carried health insurance. And I was unfortunate enough to get cancer, and my husband has some chronic illness issues. And even though we always had insurance—in fact, we also had disability insurance and a health-care savings account at the same time—when I got sick, we found out what it didn’t cover and what we couldn’t get taken care of. And we ended up losing our home first, and then, eventually, we still couldn’t pay all the bills and we ended up going bankrupt and moving in with our daughter. And it was a really rough slide, after working a whole lifetime for everything we had tried to achieve, and then losing it all in a matter of months. You go to a hospital here, and you may go to a hospital that’s part of your insurance plan’s coverage, and yet you find there are people actually inside that hospital who don’t take your insurance. So, while you get a bill from the hospital that may be covered 80 percent, for instance, you get home and you start getting bills from all sorts of other providers who touched your body somehow along the way that you didn’t really know what their situation was, and you owe thousands to them as well that the insurance pays minimal amounts or nothing to.

TEXT ON SCREEN: The Real News spoke to several delegates to the Policy Forum about the reforms proposed by AHIP and by the Obama administration.

SPEAKER: I think our member generally favor a private health-care marketplace. And, secondly, we would have concerns whether you do in fact crowd out—by government competition you crowd out the private sector.

JEFF HEATHERINGTON, FAMILYCARE HEALTH PLANS, INC.: I’m not sure that either the government or the private sector really has a good handle on running things. I think that Oregon has done a very fine job of designing a system that works and has kept costs going up more slowly in a lot of cases, certainly, than commercial costs in the state.

ELLIOTT COOPER, PHYSICIAN, VETERANS ADMINISTRATION: I don’t know that Obama has a plan, per se, for health-care reform. He has a lot of ideas that he would like to incorporate into health-care reform. The plan has elements that, if they were actuated, would be useful, okay? But there are also elements that are very contentious and probably would not lead to meaningful reform if they get the hackles up of all the interested parties. Let’s put it that way.

HEATHERINGTON: —is really controlled by pretty much monopolistic sectors in terms of the pharmaceutical industry and the hospital industry. And until you address those costs in terms of the services they deliver, you’re not going to have real health-care reform that you can afford.

ROBERT ZIRKELBACH, SPOKESPERSON, AHIP: President Obama has signaled to the nation that he is serious about health-care reform. We applaud the president for prioritizing this issue and for setting aside the resources that are needed to reform the health-care system. And we are very optimistic that we can achieve something in this country that we haven’t been able to achieve for the past 100 years. America’s Health Insurance Plans is a trade association that represents the health-insurance industry. We have 1,300 member companies that provide coverage to more than 200 million Americans. We think Congress should set a national goal of reducing the future rate of growth of health-care costs by 30 percent. Health-care costs are rising 7 percent a year right now. If we could just bring that down 1.5, 2 percent, we could save $1 trillion over the next 10 years.

HEATHERINGTON: I think that the government entities need to stop responding to the pressures from the highly financed lobbyists in the hospital industry, the DME industry, and the pharmaceutical industry that keep driving up those costs with really no apparent value to the health-care system.

SMITH: Being in Michael Moore’s movie, it’s not something you ever really aspire to do, I don’t think. You know, first of all, to be in a documentary like that means some pretty terrible stuff happened to you to make you the right candidate for the movie. The other thing I was always so acutely aware of and still am—it’s part of the reason I still fight for health care—is that we were not in the film because we were unique; we were chosen to be in the film because we were not unique.

ZIRKELBACH: And we need to invest in health-information technology that can improve efficiency, that can reduce medical errors, and ultimately lower health-care costs. When we traveled the country last summer for our nationwide listening tour, we heard from the American people, their priorities for health-care reform. And what we heard is that people want a uniquely American solution to health-care reform that builds on what’s working in the current health-care system. Our policy that we outline, we believe, is workable, we believe it can pass, and we believe it’ll address all of the challenges that are facing the nation.

SMITH: Recovering from the bankruptcy, as you might imagine, is horrible. We label people who go bankrupt in this country worse than we label some criminals in the country. We label credit reports for years, really, literally years. It’s hard for me to rent housing even now, because they look and then, “Oh, you went bankrupt.” They don’t really care why you went bankrupt. I may never again be able to own a home because people will look and say this was a bank-—but they don’t care why. So it’s very hurtful. My husband is 64 years old, worked all his life. Very difficult to think about him. Very difficult.

ZIRKELBACH: First off, the American people don’t want it. We have done surveys, and we’ve seen multiple surveys showing that the American approach that builds on what’s working. And, really, the other part of this that needs to be looked at is the sustainability of the public programs that we have.

SMITH: My personal preference, and what millions of Americans have said they want, is to go to a single-payer system. I think a single-payer system mixes the best of the left side of this argument, which would be public financing, with the right side of this argument, which is private delivery of care.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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