Rain on Our Parade
The excitement and exhilaration in
our nation’s capital don’t hide the anxiety over
the potential consequences of healthcare reform.
Inauguration Day, ensconced in the warm offices of The
Council overlooking the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route, was
an exhilarating experience. The night before, I’d snagged
a couple of great seats for the “Kids Inaugural
Ball” so my 8-year-old daughter Julia could groove with
the Obama girls to the beats of Miley Cyrus and the Jonas
Brothers. From there, we walked back to The Council suite to
sleep on the floor to avoid the ensuing security. It was a wise
call. While 250 guests planned to come to our parade-watching
party, only about 70 made it through the molasses-moving Secret
Service lines outside our building.
Finally, in the late afternoon, the parade commenced. To my
astonishment, the motorcade slowed to a halt, and the new
president stepped out of his car directly in front of our
building, waving straight up at us. It was a moment of history
that thrilled my daughter and me, notwithstanding the fact that
she was a Hillary girl and I voted for the old white guy.
With the economy in the tank and financial services reform
coming at us, everyone projects their best hopes and
aspirations on Obama.
In the 111th session of Congress, given the struggles of our
member firms and the necessity that we successfully provide
value to our members, I have three goals:
- Pass the surplus lines bill. Our members need relief, and
there’s no good reason for anyone—including the
relentlessly negative “consumer
activists”—to oppose it.
- Make sure that broad regulatory reform does us no harm
and achieves its goal of minimizing “systemic
risk” in the aftermath of the AIG intervention.
We’ll also use this as an opportunity to achieve
positive reforms that reflect a national and international
commercial insurance marketplace.
- Play a constructive role in assuring that the
employer-provided group health insurance marketplace
isn’t undermined or eviscerated.
It is this third issue—health insurance
reform—that gives me the most heartburn. Everyone wants
to see universal coverage and more efficient and effective
healthcare, and everyone wants to pay less for it. Unlike with
Hillary Clinton’s aborted 1994 effort, most policymakers
talk about “building upon” and not supplanting the
employer-based private health insurance system. But all of the
major Democratic leaders on healthcare in Congress (Reps. Pete
Stark, Charlie Rangel and Henry Waxman, and Sens. Ted Kennedy
and Max Baucus)—and the president himself—have
bought into the premise that Americans should be offered a
federal “alternative” health insurance plan. Chris
Nadeau, chairman of the Council of Employee Benefit Executives
and a principal at William Gallagher Associates in Boston,
encapsulated our concerns in an e-mail to me: “We know
there are problems with the system,” he wrote.
“There will be a cost for expanded coverage, and we will
all share in that obligation. But the cost of healthcare is not
the result of an employer or insurance-based system. Insurance
companies are far more effective than the federal Medicare and
Medicaid programs at developing effective disease management,
best practice protocols, and other products designed to control
the skyrocketing cost of care.”
Consumers, he wrote, need “tools and incentives to
take risk and make decisions on their healthcare.” The
federal government, he added, can’t effectively handle
the complex cost control and delivery issues associated with
managed care.“The free market has dozens of carriers
focusing on every dollar and developing creative strategies to
competein this market.They need to be given more
Nadeau’s correct, but the prevailing Washington winds
aren’t headed in that direction. For the
employer-provided group health insurance system—and the
brokers critical in securing and servicing millions of
Americans’ health insurance policies—dire threats
are on the horizon.
So, yes, I am exhilarated to be in Washington at such a
critical time in our nation’s history, and I hope this
president succeeds. I’m also deeply worried about the
consequences of a reform effort that could contort and
ultimately doom the private health insurance marketplace.
Wood is The Council’s senior
vp of Government Affairs. Joel.Wood@LeadersEdgeMagazine.com