By Michael Collins
When lobbyist bribery doesn’t work, the insurance industry deploys disrupter groups to shout down Town Halls. A leaked memo proves the strategy is deliberate.
Some major health insurers and other health interests are behind some of the highly emotional and disruptive scenes at town hall meetings around the country.
What does this say about their level of desperation concerning the health care debate?
Anyone who has raised a high spirited teen knows that when the facts are obvious about some misbehavior, there’s always the chance that the facts will recede into a background of a highly emotional argument. Raise your voice after you see $3,000 damage to the car and you might hear, “Why are you yelling at me!” and so forth. Once the discussion heads in that direction, you’ve lost, at least for the moment.
The health care industry and their Republican allies are very much like a guilty teen — screaming and yelling at town hall meetings to divert attention from the real issues surrounding health care for 300 million citizens. The only difference is that the corporate entities involved are using proxies like Freedomworks; a well funded public relations firm that offers just-in-time delivery of worked up “activist” groups. Its leadership and “hundreds of thousands of grassroots volunteers nationwide” think that screaming and yelling at town hall meetings to save the current health care system is persuasive public discourse.
This strategy surprised many as it unfolded during the first few congressional town halls. The debate over the need for health care reform has been momentarily diverted to a sideshow of indignant attendees shouting down their representative or senator. Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius felt the heat in Philadelphia. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) was another recipient of health insurance industry enabled histrionics at his town hall meeting in liberal Austin, Texas. Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-MD) was hung in effigy in front of his Salisbury office in broad daylight just days ago, a distasteful reminder for locals of a very real lynching in 1913 when authorities did nothing.
Unfortunately for the corporate health care alliance, the play book was revealed just as the disruption plan got underway. A leaked memo from Freedomworks outlined the plan to systematically disrupt town hall meetings. The well funded organization is headed up by former Rep. Dick Armey (R-TX), a Newt Gingrich protégé.
Freedomworks is not alone in the battle to save the health insurance corporations. The powerful public relations firm representing AETNA and CIGNA, Shirley & Bannister Public Affairs, is closely tied to ResistNet.com and other “grassroots” disruptors. The Coalition to Protect Patients Rights is managed by a major lobbying group headed up by a former aid to Sen. Charles Grassley, (R-IA). Richard L. Scott, the former CEO of Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) started Conservatives for Patient Rights. Scott “sought opportunities elsewhere” after HCA was slapped with a $1.7 billion settlement for insurance fraud during his tenure.
Before the leaked memo on disruption tactics, Republicans crowed about the public displays showing “grassroots” opposition to health care reform. After the leak, it was apparent that the Republican office holders and Fox News had been mouthing the talking points outlined by the corporate grassroots organizers.
But as the facts emerged and the pattern was clear. The game plan is now on display. It’s not magic if you know how the trick is done.
There may well be some people who are so attached to the health care status quo that they’re irate (particularly if they’re health insurance company retirees). However, the other concerns that would produce equal or greater outrage are not generating this type of protest. For example, anger at the failure to cap credit card interest rates, desperation about the high level of foreclosures, and lost pensions might be expected to generate some shout outs. That has not occurred. But we’re expected to believe that making the world safe for AETNA is so important to Jane and John Q Citizen, they’ll trash town hall meetings to serve the cause.
A New Level of Desperation for Corporate Health Insurers
Rep. Allen Boyd (D-FL) tarred and feathered; Rep. Lloyd Doggett, (D-TX) with horns; and Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-MD) hung in effigy.
The pictures above are all violent, hostile representations of moderate Democrats about to meet with the public. The tar and feathering had to do with Rep. Boyd’s support for cap-and-trade energy legislation (another pet project of Freedomworks). Are the horned and hung representations of Doggett and Kratovil before public meetings in their districts somehow supposed to contribute to the health care debate?
The debased and trivial dialog on health care is a direct product of some major health insurers and other health interests employing those who specialize in debased and trivial dialog – the lobbying firms mentioned.
Do the leaders of these corporations actually think that they can sway public opinion with behavior that most find offensive? Have they completely given up on negotiating a piece of the health care market from the Obama administration? Have they reached a level of incompetence where their corporate governance starts to look like depraved indifference?
The tactics of disrupting town hall meetings is very strange and extremely risky. This is about all the companies have left, other than the normal legalized bribery through campaign donations. It’s all the more surprising that they’re calling on lobbying groups that came up with the failed Tea Bagging events. Why would this effort be any more effective or end any differently?
What industry leaders know but won’t admit is this — they’ve already lost the battle. A credible argument for single payer health is being made. Within the coalition supporting expanded health care, the clearest message comes from the single payer, nationalized health care faction. While it has been a struggle to put single payer and universal health care on the table, the idea has broad public support. Private health insurance may not go away this year but it’s on the way out. The “industry” will be finished in the near to mid term.
What is the response from the insurance industry? Denigrate the dialog. Disrupt meetings with consistently rude behavior. Massively misrepresent the facts and analysis on the overall program of universal health care. Most stunning, the out of control disruptors present violent images aimed at the representatives they’re trying to persuade. It’s a pathetic display of the very worst leadership imaginable. As a result, it justifies the very worst interpretations of the motives and actions of these companies.
Who would trust these health insurance companies with their medical care and that of their families?
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