Democrats continue attacks on insurance industry

Just because the message didn’t work as well as originally planned over the August recess, House Democrats aren’t finished with their efforts to vilify the private health insurance industry.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) have made a written request to the nation’s 52 largest health insurers, demanding documents related to their executive compensation packages as well as to their expenditures on corporate retreats and conferences.

Democratic aides familiar with the committee said leaders have not closed the door on a series of high-profile hearings this fall, in which top insurance CEOs would be called before the committee to explain hundreds of millions in expenditures on salaries and lavish corporate events.

For Democrats, such hearings could be a chance to reclaim the upper hand in the healthcare reform debate after an August recess in which they’ve battled through rowdy town halls to find audiences sympathetic to their argument that the private health care industry is profiting on the backs of patients.

It would also be a chance to turn up the heat on the insurance agency, which Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have made no secret in trying to vilify.

The press by Democrats for information comes after fiery comments by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) directed at insurers.

“They are the villains in this,” Pelosi said of private insurers just before the recess.

“They have been part of the problem in a major way. They are doing everything in their power to stop a public option from happening. And the public has to know that. They can disguise their arguments any way they want, but the fact is that they don’t want the competition.”

The Democratic attacks on insurers, however, so far appear to have failed in building momentum for passing a healthcare reform bill in September or October.

Debates about a public insurance option to compete with the private insurers have exposed deep divisions within the Democratic Party, in both the House and Senate, an Democratic leaders are still scrambling to come up with game plans to hold their Caucus together, even if it means splitting up healthcare reform into smaller, more politically manageable pieces.

Waxman and Stupak gave the companies until Sept. 4 to turn over documents related to how they compensate any employees – including executives and board members – who made more than $500,000 between 2003 and 2008, and until Sept. 14 to supply information going back to 2007 on how much they spent on any events held outside company grounds.

The committee described the effort as part of its “ongoing investigation of the health insurance industry's business practices… on how the companies use the premiums collected from policyholders, businesses, and the government.”

Waxman and Stupak demanded that every company provide a list of each employee or officer who was compensated in excess of $500,000 a year between 2003 and 2008, as well as lists of every board member each company retained and how they were compensated annually during the same period.  They also asked for tables explaining each company’s expenditures for all corporate retreats and events not held on company grounds from January 2007 on, as well as each company’s gross and net revenue from 2003 to 2008.