Adding fertilizer to its grass tops advocacy, United hired Simon Stevens, who once served as an advisor to former British prime minister Tony Blair. Stevens has been making the rounds in Congress, telling members that they need not follow the British example. He even hand-delivered a report on cost savings measures to key senators. While noisy grassroots advocates have focused on all the money that insurers have given to Senate Finance chairman Max Baucus and other members of his committee, United has quietly been working its magic on the committee’s draft legislation.
As we have pointed out, the media has scarcely mentioned the subject of minimum benefits and comprehensiveness of coverage. While the media has been hyper-focused on the political horserace, United has been hyper-focused on ensuring that consumers shoulder more of the cost of their care. As BusinessWeek notes, the company benefits when policyholders pick up more of the tab, and United has been trying to make that happen.
In late spring, the Finance Committee was considering making consumers pay, on average, 24 percent of their medical costs, in addition to their normal insurance premiums. After Stevens and other company officials got involved, the committee upped the amount policyholders would have to shoulder to 35 percent—a number that was much more to the company’s liking. The final number is still up in the air. But that number is crucial to whether reform will be meaningful or fanciful.
Last week, the industry’s uber-lobbyist Karen Ignagni, who heads the trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans, was upset that her industry is being “demonized.” Ignani decried “the same old Washington politics of find an enemy and go to war.” What a puzzling remark! BusinessWeek’s story shows beyond a reasonable doubt that, for her industry’s biggest player, it is the same old Washington politics and then some. And it is United Healthcare that has gone to war.