As Blue Wave Crests, Health Insurers Brace For ‘Medicare For All’ Push

Inside the headquarters of the nation’s health insurance lobbies, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and America’s Health Insurance Plans, an increasing amount of time and money is being spent preparing for the coming debates in Washington and on the presidential campaign trail over “Medicare for All.”

The effort to bring popular coverage for seniors 65 and over to all Americans has long been an elusive goal of progressives and some Democrats in Congress, who almost a decade ago settled for expansion of taxpayer-funded health benefits via private insurers when President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in 2010.

While Democrats and progressives praise Obama and the ACA for bringing coverage to more than 20 million Americans, they want more. And they are emboldened by rising popularity of a single-payer approach given healthcare costs have continued to rise and millions remain uncovered by existing forms of health insurance. It’s unclear exactly what kind of Medicare for All proposal will advance or whether it would bring an end to insurers being involved in administering government-subsidized health benefits.

Still, supporters of Medicare for All are worried about the war chest the health insurance industry is already bringing to the debate even before the next Congress convenes after November’s midterm elections and the field of candidates is set to battle Donald Trump should he run for re-election in 2020.

“The lobbying push, including television ads and other scare tactics that the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries will use to protect their ability to keep profiting from our fragmented health care system, will dwarf their attacks on health reform efforts of the past,” Eagan Kemp, health care policy advocate for Public Citizen said last week in a statement accompanying a report on the healthcare industry’s lobbying clout. “The upcoming debate will test whether our elected officials are finally ready to stand up for their constituents instead of defending self-interested, parasitic corporations that ply them with campaign contributions as long as they keep the health care spending spigot flowing.”

Both the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and America’s Health Insurance Plans, known in Washington as “AHIP,” are already listed as funders of The Partnership For America’s Health Care Future, which is expected to be the vehicle used to attack Medicare for All or similar proposals that would uproot private insurer involvement in administering government health benefits.

The lobbies historically don’t put the names of their members companies out there when pushing for or against one policy or another. AHIP includes Anthem, Cigna, Centene, Molina Healthcare, Oscar Health and WellCare Health Plans.

AHIP wouldn’t say how much the association is spending on the effort to fight Medicare for All. “Certainly we’re paying close attention to any conversation about Medicare for All and similar proposals,” AHIP spokeswoman Kristine Grow said. “There remains little detail on how any of them would work in practice.”

Blue Cross Blue Shield Association members include Anthem, an investor-owned operator of Blue Cross plans, as well as dozens of other Blue Cross plans and large holding companies like Health Care Service Corp., which operates Blues plans in Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

Blue Cross Blue Shield Association would provide no comment. A spokeswoman referred questions regarding the trade group’s Medicare For All effort to the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future.

The Partnership for America’s Health Care Future says its mission is “to improve what’s working in health care and fix what’s not.”

“We support building on the strength of employer-provided health coverage and preserving Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs that so many Americans depend on, so we can deliver affordability, expand options, improve access, and foster innovation,” The Partnership says on its web site.

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