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  Groups Make Final Push to Influence Health Reform  

CQ HealthBeat (1/13, Norman, subscription required) reports, "It's now or never for those who want their point of view to be heard on the healthcare overhaul, as House and Senate negotiators enter talks over the final version of the legislation." AARP "has focused on affordability of premiums and cost-sharing payments as a key issue in the overhaul. In a letter to congressional leaders, AARP said that for it to support final legislation, it is 'essential' that insurance companies be barred from charging older Americans 'unaffordable' rates linked to their age." Therefore, AARP said that it "would 'strongly' support the House bill with its 2-to-1 age rating." The group "also supports a single, nationwide health insurance exchange, as is structured in the House bill."


        Roll Call (1/13, Roth, subscription required) notes, "Industries and advocacy groups with a stake in healthcare reform legislation are increasingly assuming that Congress will approve an overhaul and are shifting their focus to ensure that their top priorities are protected in the final bill." For instance, America's Health Insurance Plans spokesman "Robert Zirkelbach said the industry is now seeking changes in the legislation that would make it less disruptive to consumers -- such as changing implementation dates so that financial penalties don't kick in before new benefits do."


        Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times (1/13, Levey, Hook) reports that "consumer groups and other advocates of a 'public option' are continuing to push for more oversight of the insurance industry, in anticipation that the final legislation will not include a government-run health plan to compete with commercial insurers." But "the insurance industry is fighting to head off new federal regulation in favor of provisions in the Senate bill that give states more responsibility to oversee the industry."


        Health insurers said to have funneled money to anti-health reform ads. CongressDaily (1/13, Stone, subscription required) reports that according to "two healthcare lobbyists familiar with the transactions," America's Health Insurance Plans solicited "$10 million to $20 million" from Aetna, Cigna, Humana, Kaiser Foundation Health Plans, UnitedHealth Group, and WellPoint to fund "third-party television ads aimed at killing or significantly modifying the major health reform bills moving through Congress." The money was "funneled to the US Chamber of Commerce to help underwrite ads by two business coalitions set up and subsidized by the Chamber. Each insurer kicked in at least $1 million and some gave multimillion-dollar donations."


        The New York Times (1/12, Seelye) "Prescriptions" blog also covered the story, noting that "even as it funded the negative commercials, the insurers' trade association, America's Health Insurance Plans, has generally been professing support for the idea of an overhaul, while opposing some specific provisions, like a government-run health insurance plan."


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