Sen. Alexander's Party Line

When I recently complained to Sen. Lamar Alexander about his hostility to the President's embattled health care bill, he responded with contentions straight out of the insurance industry's propaganda so admirably described in Wendell Potter's Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out, a book recently featured in an informative Metro Pulse article. ["The Defector" by Jack Neely, Jan. 13, 2011] Note: Once a corporate officer in giant health insurer CIGNA, a now reformed Wendell Potter is a native Tennessean.

The background of that industry's arguments and the money-laden atmosphere in which they were born is well attested to in Potter's convincing exposure of chicanery in the industry when he worked for it.

Potter brands the insurance industry's contentions (so faithfully recited in Sen. Alexander's letter) as being almost entirely specious. Take, for example, the argument that thousands of jobs will be eliminated by Obamacare. I ask if adding 23 million presently uninsured souls to insurance rolls will result in widespread unemployment in health-care services? My Medicare EOBs are currently processed by private insurers, mostly by CIGNA. Question: Has my Medicare insurance business caused the elimination of CIGNA employee positions? Will insurance employees not be needed to process the claims of the millions of newly insured? Surely they will.

And so with the other contentions of an industry frightened out of its wits at the prospect of its outrageous profits being reasonably trimmed. To be sure, "business as usual" will change somewhat under Obamacare, but most of that change will be in the interest of the consumer of medical insurance and medical care. Under proper scrutiny, the excesses of current medical insurance executives and practices will be open to public examination and accountability.

Let us take one glaring example of the recent excesses of the industry as currently constituted. Recently the CEO of United Health Care was rewarded with $30 million in annual salaries and bonuses. Another (from CIGNA) was paid $24 million. For what? Would $3 million have been adequate? Or go to $10 million? Would that do? Such speculation surely points to the absurdity that typifies most executives' compensation in the business world—an absurdity which has been magnified by the current excesses, mismanagement, and the resulting meltdown of major banks, insurance companies, and other large firms.

How many jobs could be funded by a partial remission of these executives' salaries? Is thousands a reasonable guess? Or could these retrieved dollars buy medical insurance policies for some of the 23 million uninsured Americans?

I don't have to imagine, however, the response of Sen. Alexander who looks at the unregulated "entrepreneurial" speculations of Wall Street (e.g. derivatives) and at the overcompensated moguls of the business world with jealous wonder and can see no links between their excesses and our wrecked economy and the plight of the disadvantaged or unemployed uninsured.

James E. Gill