Leader's Edge logo Under the Dome by Joel Wood Tell the Editor
Under the Dome by Joel Wood 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.

By  Joel Wood

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 tools.”

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

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