Dems scramble after warning from health insurers

By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR
Associated Press
October 12, 2009

WASHINGTON – Insurance companies aren’t playing nice any more. Their dire message that health care legislation will drive up premiums for people who already have coverage comes as a warning shot at a crucial point in the debate, and threatens President Barack Obama’s top domestic priority.

Democrats and their allies scrambled on Monday to knock down a new industry-funded study forecasting that Senate legislation, over time, will add thousands of dollars to the cost of a typical policy. “Distorted and flawed,” said White House spokeswoman Linda Douglass. “Fundamentally dishonest,” said AARP’s senior policy strategist, John Rother. “A hatchet job,” said a spokesman for Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont.

But the health insurance industry’s top lobbyist in Washington stood her ground. In a call with reporters, Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, pointedly refused to rule out attack ads on TV featuring the study, though she said she believed the industry’s concerns could be amicably addressed.

At the heart of the industry’s complaint is a decision by lawmakers to weaken the requirement that millions more Americans get coverage. Since the legislation would ban insurance companies from denying coverage on account of poor health, many people will wait to sign up until they get sick, the industry says. And that will drive up costs for everybody else.

Insurers are now raising possibilities such as higher premiums for people who postpone getting coverage, or waiting periods for those who ignore a proposed government requirement to get insurance and later have a change of heart.

The drama threatened to overshadow Tuesday’s scheduled vote by the Senate Finance Committee on a 10-year, $829-billion plan that Baucus has touted as the sensible solution to America’s problems of high medical costs and too many uninsured.

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