Health insurers use ads against Clinton's plan

September 08, 1993|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- With their survival at stake, for-profit health insurers launch an advertising blitz today against the Clinton administration's health care reform plan, hoping to persuade the public that the plan is bad medicine.

The $1.7 million television ad campaign charges that President Clinton's plan -- which won't be formally announced until later this month -- would limit consumers' choices of health insurance coverage.

Administration officials say the plan is essentially done. Democratic committee aides on Capitol Hill and various interest groups were given briefings yesterday and a peek at what one aide said is a 400-page document. But no one is allowed to keep a copy.

Bill Gradison, president of the Health Insurance Association of America, likened the Clinton plan to one in which the government told automobile shoppers they could buy from Chrysler and General Motors, but not Ford.

It "would take away from millions of Americans their right to stay with their present health insurer, their present health plan," he said at a news conference yesterday.

But a White House spokesman, Kevin Anderson, disputed Mr. Gradison's suggestion that consumers could be left with only a handful of coverage choices. There will be "as many [plans] as the market will bear," he said.

The association, which represents 270 insurers, is taking aim at a key provision in the Clinton plan: the creation of huge regional health care purchasing organizations. Using premiums paid by all employers and workers in a region, these organizations would buy coverage -- specifically, the benefits package mandated by the federal government.

Clinton advisers say the purchasing organizations, or "health alliances," would give consumers and employers clout they currently lack when shopping for coverage. But health insurance experts believe that these organizations would hasten the demise or merger of many of the hundreds of insurance companies that now operate by carving out small pieces of the insurance market.

Administration officials say this winnowing out is justified because many insurers are surviving only by insuring the healthy and by shutting out those with problems -- a practice that would be outlawed under the reform plan.

But the insurance association argues that consumers want to have a large choice of insurers, which the organization says would enhance competition.

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