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When we're talking about health insurance reform, the most important voice is often the one not invited to the table: the consumer.  Consumers and consumer advocates have been consistently locked out of key discussions in the current health care debate.

First we heard that consumer advocates had been left out of closed-door negotiations orchestrated by senate staffers to formulate health care reform legislation.  A recent poll found that the central premise of the Senate’s so-called “workhorse” group, mandatory purchases of private heath insurance, is overwhelmingly unpopular with American voters.

Then, consumer advocates were left off the invite list to the White House summit on health care reform.  No Consumer Watchdog, Consumers Union, Consumer Federation, or Public Citizen.

The third strike came today when no consumer voices were heard at a U.S. Senate Heath, Education, Labor and Pensions committee round table discussion about insurance reforms in the forthcoming national health care reform effort.  Three of the seven panel members were from the insurance industry.  A forth panelist represents an insurer-friendly think tank.

Today’s panelists were:

  • Janet Trautwein, Executive Vice President and CEO, National Association of Health Underwriters, Arlington, VA
  • Ronald A. Williams, MS, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Aetna Inc., Hartford, CT
  • Karen Pollitz, M.P.P., Research Professor, Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University, Washington, DC
  • Karen Ignagni, M.B.A., President and CEO, America's Health Insurance Plans, Washington, DC
  • Len Nichols, Ph.D, Director, Health Policy Program at the New America Foundation, Washington, DC
  • Katherine Baicker, Ph.D, Professor of Health Economics, Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard School of Public Health, Cambridge, MA
  • Sandy Praeger, Health Insurance Commissioner, State of Kansas, Kansas City, KS

Not surprisingly the industry-heavy panel unfairly skewed the discussion toward "reforms" supported by the industry, like the mandatory purchase of health insurance.  The panel also failed to talk about controls of health insurance premiums, profit and overhead like those that state rules provide for auto and home insurance premiums.

In case policymakers aren’t clear on the concept:

Con·su·mer ad·vo·cate -- someone who considers reform from the point of view of what consumers would pay and what they would get.

This is a critical perspective in any debate about whether Americans should be required to buy health insurance and how much health care they’ll get for their money that has been absent in the Senate to date.