Insurance industry real winner in Colorado health exchange decision

According to a press release, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers “lauded” the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act mandate for all Americans to buy health insurance is unconstitutional.

“Today’s decision is a clear victory for federalism and the Constitution,” Suthers said. “The court’s decision underlines how Congress overstepped its constitutional bounds by mandating for the first time that individual Americans buy a particular product or service.”

While that victory is not nearly as clear as Suthers claims, the unquestioned victors are a couple of special interest groups determined to destroy the health care reform legislation, state by state.

Although 26 states signed on to the lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, the real powers behind the lawsuit are the American Legislative Exchange Council and its close ally, the National Federation of Independent Business.

ALEC calls itself “the nation’s largest, non-partisan, individual public-private membership association of state legislators.” But anti-ALEC activist Carl Gibson calls it “a shadowy partnership between Republican legislators and corporate lobbyists.”

“Founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrich and other conservative activists … ALEC is a critical arm of the right-wing network of policy shops that, with infusions of corporate cash, has evolved to shape American politics,” reports The Nation’s John Nichols.

Gibson says, “ALEC’s purpose is to pass laws that enrich corporate profits and investor returns by starving the government of revenue, rigging elections and union busting.”

ALEC was the only state legislative organization to file a friend-of-the-court brief in the health care case.

NFIB bills itself as “the voice of small business.” Among the achievements it lists in Colorado are “simultaneously taking a national lead in having all of the (Affordable Care) Act … declared unconstitutional by the courts,” and becoming the lead advocate for a Colorado health exchange.

The NFIB is a co-plaintiff in the case with the 26 states. “The federation … argued the federal health care law would cost small businesses millions by forcing them to provide health insurance for employees,” according to the Public Interest Research Group.

A year after President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, ALEC claims its member state legislators have “successfully worked to expose the truth about ObamaCare and fight back — one state at a time — with the Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act.”

The group’s brief says the individual mandate “is incompatible with ALEC’s state-level efforts to reform health care and secure broader coverage through market-driven, cost-effective measures that preserve individual liberty and state sovereignty.  ALEC and its members believe that such a theory of congressional authority is incompatible with the U.S. Constitution … and will have profound effects on the relationship between the federal government and the states.”

The group provides “model bills” to state legislatures. These bills “are aimed at taking the teeth out of government regulation, giving lavish tax breaks to the wealthy and using the resulting budget deficits to privatize institutions like schools and prisons,” Gibson wrote.

Industry goals included preventing states from negotiating with health care providers on prices and benefits. The companies did not want plans that failed to meet federal criteria excluded from the exchanges. And they wanted to encourage appointment of industry executives and allies to exchange governing boards.

Colorado has been an easy mark for ALEC and NFIB. As medical-industry critic Wendell Potter wrote, “Nowhere are consumer groups more dismayed by the Obama administration’s proposed rules than in Colorado, where lawmakers passed a bill that explicitly prohibits the state exchange from negotiating with health plans and where the governor and legislators have just packed the exchange board with industry executives and allies.”

The struggle between advocates and opponents of the individual mandate will eventually reach the Supreme Court, where it will be decided.

But in Colorado, the battle is already lost. Potter says. “As the bill worked its way through the Legislature, free-market ideology trumped the real-world need to protect the state’s residents from unscrupulous and profit-motivated insurers.”

Bill Grant lives in Grant Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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