Sopranos-Style Tactics in Health Care

Rep. Henry Waxman is making America's health insurance companies an offer they can't refuse.

Like a mafia underboss trying to face down a rival crime family, the powerful California Democratic chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee has resorted to ugly intimidation tactics with opponents of government-run health care.

In the spirit of Joe McCarthy, earlier this week, Waxman and House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak, D-MI, sent a letter to 52 of the nation's largest health insurance companies that contained a not-so-veiled threat.

Consumers are currently prohibited from buying less expensive health insurance policies issued by a private health insurer in another state.

Waxman and Stupak's letter demanded detailed information from health insurance companies about executive pay, corporate conferences and retreats, and other business practices.

For any employees or officers making more than $500,000 a year in the past six years, the congressmen are demanding details on salaries, bonuses, pensions and other compensation.

They're asking for a list of conferences and retreats that are paid for by insurance companies. They're also insisting that insurance companies disclose the identity of all board members and their compensation.

According to the letter, all this information must be provided by Sept. 14 as part of an investigation of "executive compensation and other business practices in the health insurance industry."

Imagine that. An investigation of health insurance compensation launched by two powerful Democratic House Committee Chairmen in the midst of a coordinated campaign to vilify health insurance companies.

As far as intimidation tactics go, this latest move by Waxman and Stupak makes the White House's effort to "flag" online political opponents look small time.

Waxman and Stupak are attempting to use raw political power to silence their opponents, plain and simple. If that's not the case, why single out one sector of healthcare and not others, like physician groups, hospitals, and drug companies? Could it be because many of these groups have publicly supported the emerging Democratic legislation?

The problem for Democrats is that making health insurance companies the cartoon villains of heath care reform is a sign of desperation, not strength.

President Obama and his congressional allies have insisted for months that government health insurance is necessary, not to lay the groundwork for a single payer system, but to provide healthy competition for insurance companies."To keep them honest," in the president's words.

But the more they talk down private health insurance in order to talk up government health insurance, the more the public distrusts government health insurance.

The latest NBC news poll found that 47 percent of Americans now oppose the government health insurance plan while just 43 percent support it. That's a reversal of opinion from last month's poll, in which 46 percent supported the government plan and 44 percent were opposed.

Americans have a lot to be dissatisfied with when it comes to private health insurance, but we're not buying the argument that "competition" from government run health insurance will fix things.

If the White House is so interested in creating competition, why not give health care consumers real choices of better plans by creating a national health insurance market?

Today, there are more than 1,300 health insurance companies in America divided among 50 different state markets with 50 different sets of regulation of what level of coverage private health insurance plans must offer in each state.

Consumers are currently prohibited from buying less expensive health insurance policies issued by a private health insurer in another state. Creating a nationwide health insurance market in which individuals or groups can choose better and less expensive coverage from another state would create real competition and force private insurers in each state to create better products, improve service and lower prices.

Americans know the public option is declining rapidly in support, and Waxman and Stupak know that we know it. That's why they've resorted to Sopranos-style tactics with health insurance companies.

For them, private insurance companies aren't legitimate options for Americans seeking higher quality, lower cost health care. They're poll-tested straw men in a desperate campaign to create government run health care.

Maybe that's why Americans view their health insurance companies more favorably than their congressmen.

Newt Gingrich is a senior fellow at AEI.

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