A Gentle Reminder To Republicans From the Health Insurance Industry

DrRich | November 22nd, 2010 - 9:42 am


Regular readers will know that DrRich is not enamored with Obamacare. Further, they will recall that DrRich’s chief objection to Obamacare is that it codifies into law the final destruction of the classic doctor-patient relationship.

Under Obamacare, the physician is not only released from her fiduciary obligation to her individual patient (i.e., the obligation to place the interests of the patient above all other considerations), but is strictly forbidden from acting in accordance with it. Indeed, elaborate mechanisms are established to assure that physicians will follow the directives which are to be handed down from omnipotent and immutable government panels, directives which will be explicitly aimed at optimizing collective rather than individual outcomes. And whereas physicians have long been discouraged from making healthcare decisions based on individual considerations and needs, Obamacare makes doing so a felony.

Combine that fact with inevitable future provisions that will prevent doctors from opting out of the system, and patients from spending their own money on their own healthcare, and you’ve got a prescription for a healthcare system (and a society) that are somewhat less friendly to individual needs, and somewhat more tyrannical, than supporters of Obamacare have promised us.

So, as a matter of principle, DrRich is sympathetic toward the newly-elected (and newly-reformed) Republicans who promise they will introduce and vote on a bill to repeal Obamacare.

But let’s be realistic. Even the most zealous Republicans understand that any repeal bill that passes in the House will stall in the Senate, and if it does not, the President will veto it. Indeed, it is this comforting assurance, DrRich thinks, that will induce many Progressively-oriented Republicans to go along with a repeal vote in the first place. By voting to repeal Obamacare, frightened and disoriented Republicans can mollify the Tea Party, without risking an actual abolition of the new reforms. Because if Obamacare were somehow repealed – well, where would the Republicans be then?

The health insurance industry, however, is taking no chances.

DrRich will remind his readers that Obamacare never would have become law in the first place if not for the solid and unrelenting support of the health insurance industry. The industry’s support for Mr. Obama’s effort was unfaltering. And during the long and perilous process that finally brought Obamacare to the President’s desk, whenever the cause faltered and appeared to be lost, representatives of the insurance industry would rise up and take whatever strong and difficult action was needed to get it back on track.

DrRich will further remind his readers that the insurance industry did not support Obamacare out of any principle, or compassion, or any sense of what was moral or right. They did it as a matter of life and death – theirs. For the health insurance industry had run out its string, shot its wad, blown up its business plan, and had nowhere else to turn. It was Obamacare – and its soothing “promise” to allow the industry to survive in diminished form, as a government-controlled utility – that offered insurers their only visible path away from oblivion.

The insurance industry is not about to go back. Furthermore, unlike Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and even President Obama, the insurance industry is not satisfied to let the political realities of the day block the Republicans’ efforts at repeal. For all they know, nervous Democrats in the Senate who want to be re-elected in 2012 will allow the repeal bill to go to the President’s desk. Worse, unused to seeing Presidents willing to sacrifice themselves on the alter of principle, the health insurers, in their existential panic, must wonder whether even Obama might finally change his mind and decide that he wants to be re-elected badly enough to sign a repeal bill. These possibilities seem pretty far-fetched to DrRich, of course, but to DrRich the prospect of repeal does not spell Armageddon.

During the long and painful process that saw Obamacare become law, the health insurers clearly demonstrated just how far they were willing to go to keep that process alive. DrRich is certain they will be happy to go at least that far to block repeal.

So it came as no surprise when, just last week, the insurers sent Republicans their first, gentle reminders that they will not countenance any such thing. At the Reuter’s Health Summit in New York, David Cordani, the CEO of Cigna, warned Republicans, “I don’t think it’s in our society’s best interest to expend energy in repealing the law. Our country expended over a year of sweat equity around the formation of it.” And Mark Bertolini, president of Aetna, said that any attempt to repeal Obamacare, or even an attempt to hold up funding for it, would be “problematic.” “We can’t go back,” said Bertolini,  “We need to keep moving, and we need to improve upon what we have.”

These seemingly mild-mannered statements should send a chill up the spines of Congressional Republicans. Any repeal of Obamacare necessarily and utterly relies on the acquiescence of the insurers, on their desire (or at least willingness) to continue with their current business model (possibly with some tinkering around the edges). Republicans, bless their innocent hearts, assume that’s what the insurers want.

But the truth is that the insurers know that their current business model is completely defunct, and far beyond any salvation. They see Obamacare as their only visible lifeline, and any serious threat to Obamacare as a threat to their survival.

The health insurers simply will not countenance a repeal of Obamacare. They will do whatever is necessary to demonstrate this fact to the Republicans. Their initial foray is suitably gentle. But once the repeal effort gets revved up, watch out. The insurers have already graphically demonstrated just how ungentle they can be.

If the Republicans really want to get rid of Obamacare, they’re going to have to propose an alternate solution that, among other things, provides the health insurance industry with a new and viable business model, one that seems at least as good to them as the rather paltry one Obamacare has promised. (If the Republicans want such an alternate solution, they have only to ask DrRich.)

DrRich does not think the Republicans have any idea of what may be coming their way, and from the very industry, no less, they consider to be their chief ally in the healthcare wars.

They should pay more attention.

5 Responses to “A Gentle Reminder To Republicans From the Health Insurance Industry”

  1. Robert V Sypher Jr says:

    Dr Rich: Your predictions re direct patient care relationships being declared illegal have essentially come to pass. If you check the govs latest online directive to new physicians on how they can in (31 pages) be compliant…OR ELSE!!! you will find that retainer or boutique practices are implied to be in violation of the fraud and abuse statutes. They offer examples of physicians settling for six figure sums to avoid fines and imprisonment as examples of billing to provide for services already covered, in their opinion, by the medicare benefit profiles e.g. annual exams, expedited care and referral. The threat of gross economic violence and incarceration is spelled out very clearly with out frank proscription.
    Check it out.

    • DrRich says:


      Thanks for pointing this out. I find the language a bit cryptic in this government publication, and I agree it seems to be aimed at intimidating young physicians away from retainer practices. But reading it carefully, it really seems to be talking about non-participating Medicare providers (that is, Medicare providers who do not accept assignment), and NOT physicians who are not paid by Medicare in any fashion. If you are a Medicare provider (whether participating or non-participating), it has been illegal to charge patients directly for “extra” services since the Clinton administration.


  2. Robert V Sypher Jr says:

    Dr Rich:

    Right you are regarding the participation status. As a participating orthopaedist, I have been cheering on my courageous colleagues who have gone to the retainer model.
    As a student of your observations, I thought you might appreciate the cryptic yet transparently intimidating tone of this education pamphlet for our younger members as they orient to the ways of compliant practice.

  3. I agree with your summary of the way things are and the way they are forecast to continue. However, I believe as do many of my colleagues that physicians can head off this process if given the right to privately contract with our patients for a fee other than what is “prescribed” in the Medicare Price-Fixing formula known as the RBRVS system. Currently this is only possible if one Opts Out of Medicare entirely for two years minimum and even then only for patients who are willing to forego any benefit that Medicare would otherwise pay on their behalf. In the next session of Congress be looking for the “Medicare Patient Empowerment Act” to be introduced. It is designed to accomplish just this objective and despite the fact that it is coming out of the AMA, it may well be our opening salvo in battle to take back our profession. Check it out at http://tinyurl.com/2drpdf4

  4. [...] system, where lawyers and rules and regulations may seem as important to your care as medicine.  Some say that aspects of health care reform will bring that same dynamic to regular health care, and I think [...]

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