Wash. Post claims White House is "demoniz[ing]" insurance industry by accurately portraying industry's actions

Blog ››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

Reporting that President Obama "is mounting a stinging, sustained broadside against health insurance rate increases," The Washington Post characterized the White House's message in response to reported double-digit health insurance rate increases as a "near-daily demonization of the insurance industry." But once you cut through the loaded words, the Post provided no indication that anything Obama has said in his "demonization" of insurers is incorrect or otherwise problematic:

The White House is mounting a stinging, sustained broadside against health insurance rate increases as President Obama and his aides enter what they hope will be the final stretch of a year-long political war over health-care reform.

Obama and his health secretary staged a two-pronged attack Monday in a stern letter to health insurance chief executives and a speech in which the president castigated insurance companies 22 times. "How much higher do premiums have to rise," he demanded, "before we do something about it?"


The near-daily demonization of the insurance industry is an attempt by the White House to play to Americans' anxieties about the health-care system -- and about the prospect of changing it.

The Los Angeles Times reported in February that Anthem Blue Cross planned to "dramatically raise rates for customers with individual policies" by as much as 39 percent. A February 11 New York Times article reported that White House officials were looking to illustrate the need for health care reform by pointing to excessive rate increases:

Anthem's rate increases, set to take effect March 1, have galvanized some Democrats in Washington, including President Obama, who say they provide an example of why Congress needs to break its political logjam and pass legislation to overhaul the health care system.

Indeed, the Post article itself noted that the administration's message regarding insurers was in response to double-digit rate increases:

By focusing on escalating insurance rates, especially for the sliver of the market in which people buy health coverage individually, the administration is emphasizing that costs will increase if Congress does not act.

"Part of the motivating factor here is letting members of Congress know there's a price to pay for failure," White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said Monday in an interview. "And for the public, it's important to remind them that there are premium increases of 40 percent for as far as you can see if nothing is done."

Emanuel's figure referred to a recent move by Anthem Blue Cross of California to raise premiums by 39 percent for people who buy individual policies.

As the White House has launched its last-minute public relations blitz, "there could have been no greater gift" than Anthem's proposed rate increase, said Drew E. Altman, president of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health policy and research organization. The Obama administration, Altman said, is "trying to connect better with average people" in terms more concrete than the president used earlier in the debate when he spoke about "bending the curve" of escalating health-care costs and curbing future budget deficits.

Left unanswered is how the administration is responsible for demonizing the insurance industry by highlighting the actual actions of the insurance industry.

Posted In
Health Care, Health Care Reform
The Washington Post
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