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House Rules Chairwoman Takes Aim at Health Insurers

House Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and a former health insurance company executive launched fresh attacks Wednesday on insurance companies, arguing that they are fomenting opposition to health care reform.Slaughter appeared at the Capitol with Wendell Potter, a former CIGNA vice president, who said his industry had repeatedly set up front groups to defeat past health care reform efforts and spent millions of dollars on covert public relations operations.“I know from years as an industry PR executive how effective insurers can be using scare tactics to turn public opinion against any reforms that affect profitability,— Potter said. “The industry is up to the same dirty tricks.—The press conference comes as the Democrats have shifted their message to target insurers. Democrats, led by the White House, have started talking about “health insurance reform— rather than health care reform and accused insurance companies of standing in the way of an overhaul. Potter said there was an indirect link between insurance company tactics — which he said included promoting terms like “government takeover of health care— and demonizing plans in other countries — and the disruptions that are taking place at town-hall meetings.Potter said that insurance companies already ration health care and that it should be called “Wall Street-run health care.—Those plans are not run “by people we can hold accountable on Election Day, but by insurance company accountants and underwriters and executives held accountable by a group of wealthy investors and hedge fund managers who care far more about earnings per share than your health,— he said.The industry would either like to kill reform or shape it to its own liking by preventing the creation of a competing public insurance option that could crimp its profits, Potter said.A plan that does not include such an option “might as well be called the Insurance Industry Profit Protection Act,— he said.Slaughter also took aim at what she considered the ignorance displayed by some opponents of the bill.“It is embarrassing to me as an American that people would even begin to believe that their government would be putting people to death … that people would literally buy that,— Slaughter said. “Or, as I heard the other day, that they might have forced sex-change operations. I thought, why in the world would Americans believe this?—Slaughter also said the chaos that has taken place at town halls “is not new.— Slaughter said she faced similar disruptions during the 1993 health care debate, pointing to a town hall that she held then in Rochester, N.Y., that “really turned into chaos when the John Birch Society really forced us to close it down.— Slaughter said she is doing telephone town halls this time around and sending a mailer to her constituents outlining the bill.Slaughter also vowed an end to middle-of-the-night bills after the cap-and-trade energy bill passed just hours after the final legislation was filed and said the health bill will be public longer.“You’re not going to see … a bill in the middle of the night, ever again,— she said.Slaughter also said the bill would include a conscience clause that would allow people not to be involved with abortions if they choose not to and would continue to prohibit federal funding for abortions.And she predicted that the Democratic Party’s progressives and conservatives would be able to overcome their differences on the makeup of a public option.“I’ve never seen a major bill go through that didn’t have this sort of thing,— she said.

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