In the wake of almost three years of political in-fighting and public debate about the ethics and behavior of the insurance industry, the Obama administration and insurers have discovered the need to kiss and make up.
Both sides need the new health care law to work. President Obama would like to be re-elected. Democrats in Congress would really like a solid, functioning “win” against their Republican counterparts. And the health care industry would really, really like enough business to survive.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius is actively seeking “opportunities to work with insurance companies while also keeping a close watch to make sure they treat their customers fairly.”
While it may be an uncomfortable partnership, both sides have a vested interest in such “opportunities.” Without success in the area of health care, the coming mid-term elections could be a disaster for Democrats.
If the insurance industry doesn’t deliver rates consumers can pay, Democrats are likely to renew efforts to design a government-run plan, the much debated “public option,” as direct competition to private insurers.
The administration will continue to blame insurers for escalating premiums. The only way for the industry to come out looking like they care is to get onboard with a new business model that puts diminishing dollar signs out in front of the rhetoric.
A lot will change and needs to change between now and 2014 when Americans will be required to carry insurance. The first necessary change may be an attitude adjustment on the part of all parties involved.
For more on the dynamics of the relationship between government and the insurance industry, see: “Two Health Care Adversaries Find a Need to Collaborate” by Robert Pear for the New York Times, 3 June 2010.