Who says legislative procedure is dull? The final machinations leading to a health care vote have me by the throat: What arcane rules will prevail? Which way will the bloody cage match over the shrinking number of House swing votes go? In the background is a shocking loss of health insurance in California. Yet one of the weirdest developments is a print ad and e-mail campaign by the health insurance industry that is both dull and pointless.
The insurance industry’s usual claim that the cost of the health reform bill is somehow unusustainable (even though the bill would save money overall by the end of a decade) is only hinted at, along with sincere bullet point statements about how insurers are saving money and helping people now. The ad never quite comes to a point. "To learn more" (and presumably learn what the industry’s actual position is), says the email, "go to www.americanhealthsolution.org" But click that link, and what you get is the exact text of the e-mail you’ve just read, only online.
If you see the same ad in print and type in the url urself, you get a request to "Call your Senator." But first you have to fill out a form with your name, number and other info. Then you get a robocall saying that you’ll be connected to your senator’s office (which senator?) and you’re instructed to say that Congress should "build upon and improve the current system."
It’s not exactly the conservatives’ "start over" with a "clean sheet of paper" mantra. But does the call show as coming from a phone number of the lobby group, America’s Health Insurance Plans? By saying the "build upon and improve" phrase, are you counted as being in the insurance companies’ camp?
I never got the chance to find out. I filled in the form twice and listened twice to the cheerful, chirping robocall voice, and clicked to call my Senator. Both times I got the message "Your call cannot be completed." Could it be because both Sens. Feinstein and Boxer are firmly in the "yes" camp in health reform, and won’t be swayed by another call from an AHIP number?
Maybe the lobbyists are exhausted from spending "the biggest lobbying expenditure ever by a single industry in one year". Maybe the insurance industry knows more than the rest of us about the vote count in Congress and doesn’t want to be on the wrong side of history. Maybe it realizes that this is the last chance to pick up tens of millions of new customers, handed over to the insurers by a government mandate in exchange for a few curbs on the industry’s worst abuses.
The one thing that’s certain is that the health insurance industry is running out of friends among regular Americans, who are losing their insurance at a record clip, as reported in the LA Times Tuesday, and can’t afford to buy a new policy even if they could get accepted. If a comprehensive reform doesn’t pass, millions more will lose insurance and the industry will continue to jack up prices for its remaining private customers to keep its pledges to Wall Street.