AHIP Spending $1M To Defend Rate Hikes (VIDEO)

March 9, 2010 3:49 a.m.

America’s Heath Insurance Plans, the lobbying arm of the nation’s health insurance industry, is stepping back into the health care reform debate with more than $1 million in TV ads over the next few days, an AHIP official tells TPMDC. The ads, which will run on cable, will focus on “setting the record straight about rising health care costs” as the Obama administration goes after big insurers for raising insurance rates.

The exact content of the ads is not known, but AHIP and the White House have tangled before. Last year, an AHIP “audit” of a Senate health care reform plan led to a war of words between Obama administration officials and insurers, who started out 2009 supposedly on the same side of the debate.The new AHIP ad campaign comes as the group kicks off a two-day “policy conference” in downtown D.C. which brings insurance industry executives and their political allies together as the Democratic leadership in Congress and President Obama make what they say is the final push before the final passage of reform.

In her opening remarks at the conference, which began this morning and runs through tomorrow, AHIP CEOP Karen Ignagni said her industry still sees itself as a partner in health care reform. But she said growing criticism of recent controversial rate hikes by insurance companies are not helping to move the debate over reform forward.

“Our industry strongly supports health care reform because we recognize that the current system is unsustainable,” Ignagni said in a copy of her remarks provided to TPMDC. “The current debate about rising premiums has demonstrated that, in fact, we have a health care cost crisis in this country. Unfortunately, the path that has been followed is one of vilification rather than problem solving.”

Ignagni said her group still favors several of the reform programs supported by Democrats, including an end to preexisting condition screening. In the past AHIP has also expressed support for the coverage mandates found in the Democratic reforms, which would guarantee millions of customers are added to insurance company rolls. Documents obtained by TPMDC last year suggested the group at least privately opposes a public option.

Despite an alliance with the White House at the outset of the reform debate, AHIP swiftly joined the ranks of critics attacking Democratic reform plans, which the controversial AHIP audit said would raise insurance premiums dramatically. Now, the White House and the industry appear publicly to be at odds over reform — this week, the White House has directly targeted insurers as Obama tries to drum up enthusiasm for one more reform push.

At the conference this morning, Ignagni said her industry is still a partner in reform — provided it’s the kind of reform insurance companies like.

“More than a year ago, our community proposed robust insurance market reforms to guarantee coverage for pre-existing conditions, and we offered comprehensive solutions to bend the cost curve and put our health care system on a sustainable and fiscally-responsible path,” she said in her remarks kicking off the conference in DC today. “We continue to support these objectives and are working to advance solutions that will make health care coverage more affordable for working families and small businesses across the country.”

Additional reporting by Christina Bellantoni

Late Update: AHIP is not the only group out with a new health care reform-minded ad today. Health Care for America Now, a labor-backed pro-reform group, takes on AHIP in this new spot, first reported by the Huffington Post.

Later Update:

Here’s the AHIP ad:

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