The Wall Street Journal notes that even as Obamacare posed great threats to the independence and profitability of health insurers, they were willing to play along with an effort they thought inevitable as long as they could get the government to force more people to buy their product and dodge the poison pill of the public option:
A year ago, the industry’s main trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, decided to try to get out in front of the overhaul effort. Insurers agreed to renounce some of their most controversial practices — such as denying coverage to applicants with pre-existing health conditions — hoping to gain millions of new customers through mandated coverage.
It’s a time-tested strategy by Big Business in making deals with Big Government: hope you can cut a deal that puts the real hardships on consumers and small competitors, and avoid the worst for yourself. But of course, once you have traded your freedom for crumbs from the government table, you lose control over the process. And the Journal notes that insurers are starting to have some second thoughts about the deal:
Big insurers are still hoping to influence some language in the legislation before Congress sends it to the president. But one thing is clear: The initiative is poised to change their industry more than any other sector of the U.S. health-care system, with huge potential to disrupt profitability.
Cuts in government spending for Medicare Advantage, the privately run health plans for the elderly, are a major source of funding for the overhaul. And an excise tax on most insurers is set to cost the industry $70 billion over 10 years.
“We will be taking a fundamental look at our business, our business model and how we invest our capital,” Ron Williams, Aetna Inc.’s chief executive, said this week.
Maybe they should have thought of that sooner.