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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Health Insurance Payments

Look how far your health insurance policy payments have gone.

First they paid, according to seventeen state Insurance Commissioners, for the “Harry and Louise” television ads that tore into President Clinton’s health care proposals before Congress. These state regulators issued a press statement on March 16, 1994 that “urged insurance companies to pay for political advertising, political lobbying and related expenses out of retained earnings, rather than pass such costs on to consumers in increased insurance rates.”

Texas Insurance Commissioner, J. Robert Hunter, said: “we share a common concern that consumers should not have to pick up the tab for insurance companies lobbying or buying political advertisements. Often, consumers end up paying for political advertising that may differ from their own beliefs — or that is even contrary to the consumer’s interest.”

In declaring that insurance companies ought to pay political costs out of their own profits, the state regulators proposed to establish a model reporting requirement so they and you can monitor these expenses and be sure ads and lobbying costs are not included in rates.

Second, consider how the producers for the multimillion dollars of “Harry and Louise” ads — the Health Insurance Association of America (HIAA) turns your dollar premiums into a doubleheader. The television ads, however devoid of content, stung members of Congress, including the scandal-disgrace chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL).

So a few days ago, the chairman cuts an amazing deal with the health insurance companies. In return for their taking the “Harry and Louise” ads off the air during the month of June, Rostenkowski will give these companies concessions by dropping some provisions of the legislation that they dislike.

These concessions are not minor. One relates to the principle of “community rating” which limits the insurance corporations from imposing much higher rates on older or sick people who are part of the group insurance policy. Years ago, all people who were part of the group policy paid the same insurance rate on the basis of “spreading the risk.”

Rostenkowski agreed to limit any requirement for community rating to firms of 100 or fewer workers. Before the back room deal, the proposed cutoff was for firms of 1000 or fewer workers.

The other concession from the Committee bill would be to allow insurance companies to refuse coverage for six months to people with preexisting ailments who had been previously uninsured. Another step backward.

By now you may be asking: “who gave Rostenkowski the right or the gall to cut such a deal in a written exchange with corporate advertisers?” The answer is the right of sheer, unabashed power that Rostenkowski has always exercised and abused to benefit the rich and the powerful.

It is likely that Rostenkowski will be gone from his chairmanship before June, after his plea-bargain with the U.S. Attorney for illegal conversion of public funds and property.

Unfortunately, he will be remembered more for his petty crimes than for his systemic subversion over the past four decades of the rights of small taxpayers and consumers while taking millions in campaign money, slews of junkets, gifts, wining and dining from his corporate paymasters.