After Industry Report, Democratic Party Goes After Insurers

Until now, the Democratic Party has shied away from hitting insurance companies during the health reform debate. But after after PricewaterhouseCoopers' insurance-industry-commissioned report on the Baucus health plan, that's changed.

The party sent an email last night to its full supporters list, 13 million strong, seeking to use the report to rally its support base. In it, Organizing for America Director Mitch Stewart blasted the report, asked supporters to sign a pro-health-reform petition to Congress, and supplied them with a link to donate.

Since the current health reform debate began, it was the first time the Democratic Party has sent its supporters an email criticizing insurers.

And in an email to reporters yesterday, Democratic National Committee Communications Director Brad Woodhouse accused the industry of "working feverishly to scuttle reform to protect its bottom line"--going well beyond official Democratic Party rhetoric against the insurance industry up to this point.

Commissioned by America's Health Insurance Plans (the insurance industry's lobbying group), the PricewaterhouseCoopers report concluded that several provisions in the Senate Finance Committee would cause health care costs to rise faster than under current law, and Democratic lawmakers have spent the last two days bashing it as deceptive, noting that it didn't analyze some of the cost-saving provisions, like subsidies to help buy insurance.

Thus far, blasting insurance companies has been the province of liberals--not the Democratic Party establishment. The interest-group coalition Health Care for America Now!, which comprises the left's organized movement in the health reform debate, and its member groups have gone after insurance companies with gusto, singling out insurance CEOs as well as the industry as a whole in TV ads.

But the DNC has shied away. Throughout the summer, none of its manifold daily press releases and statements have attacked insurers; the target has always been Republicans.

Democrats and health insurers started out this reform process with an ostensible alliance. Insurers had agreed to publicly support the administration's broad health reform goals, and America's Health Insurance Plans spent seven figures (it never released the exact dollar amount) airing a TV ad calling for comprehensive, bipartisan reform.

That dynamic changed in early August, when the White House decided to publicly make insurance companies the enemy, demonizing them and "special interests" as opponents of reform. But the strategic shift was limited to statements by the president and other individual Democrats--it never had the full weight of the Democratic Party's messaging machine behind it.

After yesterday's email to supporters, and the statement from Woodhouse, the gloves appear to be off.

It's unlikely that the DNC will start going after insurers unprovoked, but Woodhouse says we can expect to see more pushback from the DNC whenever the insurance company criticizes Democratic plans for reform.

"This represents the first effort by Organizing For America pushing back against the insurance industry during this debate -- and it will not represent the last as long as they continue to lie and deceive at the 11th hour to stop reform, protect the status quo and preserve their profits which are coming directly from the pockets of hard-working Americans and small businesses," Woodhouse said.

So AHIP's report seems to have had a political consequence, beyond initial reactions and its utility to critics of the Baucus plan: a Democratic Party less reluctant to join its liberal counterparts in making insurers the enemy.