The federal government was officially closed Monday. But you wouldn't know it from the pushback coming out of the White House and Congress against a health insurance industry report that argued healthcare reform would lead to higher premiums.
Aides to Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, organized a phone briefing for reporters and sent around a lengthy memo disputing the report. The Democratic National Committee e-mailed links to stories bashing it. The White House, which had already fired back earlier in the morning, kept the pressure up all day, as well. The idea seemed to be not just to knock down the report -- which was pretty evidently self-serving -- but to carve some political points out of the industry, now that it's come out as an opponent of reform.
PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the firm that prepared the report, "admits that it has not taken many of the reform provisions into consideration in reaching its numbers," the Finance staff wrote. "These other reform provisions would have the opposite effect and lead to lower premiums – but those provisions were ignored. For this reason alone, the whole report is suspect. How can the report estimate the impact of health reform without looking at the reform provisions?"
Karen Ignani, the head of America's Health Insurance Plans, the industry lobbying group that issued the report, tried to brush off that kind of substantive criticism. "PWC is a world class firm," Ignagni told reporters. "They have a stellar reputation and they have proceeded to do this analysis in a thorough and comprehensive way."
The whole back-and-forth sets up what could be a tense vote in the Finance Committee. The insurance lobby has enormous sway with members of the panel, which is scheduled to take up the reform bill Tuesday. But if the committee passes the legislation, insurers may have done themselves some damage in the long run; even moderate Democrats may not be inclined to take their study seriously, and could decide to be tougher on the industry than the existing bill would have been.