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Democrats Strike Back Against Health Insurers

Updated: 3:03 p.m.

Just as insurance companies have stepped up their August recess messaging against a public health insurance option, progressive Democrats and organizations are striking back in an attempt to build support for what they view as a crucial aspect of health care reform.

On a conference call with reporters arranged by the progressive Campaign for America’s Future, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) criticized the insurance industry and other health care lobbying groups for attacking the public option. Brown added that he is “not pleased— with the direction of the negotiations of the Senate Finance Committee, which has convened six bipartisan members to come up with a compromise bill.

He praised the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, of which he is a member, for including a public insurance option in the panel’s reform bill, which passed on a party-line vote.

He noted that the six bipartisan Senators who are negotiating the Finance bill, including Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), represent a very small percentage of Americans. “Welcome to the U.S. Senate,— he said.

The insurance industry, Brown said, is working to decimate the idea of public insurance.

“They’re out to do it their way,— he said, referring to organizations such as America’s Health Insurance Plans and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, as well as groups that represent hospitals and other medical sectors.

Some medical groups, such as PhRMA and the hospitals, have cut deals with the Obama administration and the White House to help cut costs to pay for health reforms.

“They’re out to shape this bill,— Brown said of their deals. “Don’t think these interest groups aren’t out there fighting every day to keep their share and increase their share [of the health care market].—

Brown said that “talk radio and corporate lobbyists— are trying to gin up the opposition — some of which has turned hostile at Members’ town-hall meetings back in their districts. “I don’t appreciate the threats from them,— he said.

Health insurers already have said they are planning an aggressive August recess to combat attacks on their industry and to get the message out that a public insurance option is a bad idea.AHIP’s president and CEO said during a conference call Tuesday that apublic insurance option would “force employers to drop their coverage, creating a death spiral for private insurance and financial catastrophe for many hospitals and doctors.—

Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, said that his side is not giving up on the public insurance option. He said his group is encouraging progressive Members of Congress, in particular, to “speak out and let their constituents know— the benefits of a government plan.

“We are strongly pushing for health care reform that includes a strong public plan,— he said.

Also on the call was Jacob Hacker, a professor at Yale University and proponent of a public option. He called it a “critical linchpin— of health reform, and he too criticized the Finance Committee for taking public health insurance off the table and eyeing health cooperatives instead. “Cooperatives should not be seen as a substitute for the public plan,— he said.

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