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Pining for Taxpayer Bailout, For-Profit Health Insurance Industry Threatens Massive Post-Covid Premium Hikes

"Why should Congress enrich insurance companies with our public money when their duty is to protect the public, not to protect corporate profits?"

Insurers are already asking for federal relief from the burden of paying out claims.

Insurers are already asking for federal relief from the burden of paying out claims. (Photo: Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

A lobbyist told The Hill in an interview Tuesday that unless the insurance industry receives a federal bailout, companies intend to raise premiums on Americans due to the effects of the coronavirus outbreak on private employer-based plans—a threat that progressives said only strengthens the case for a single-payer, Medicare for All system.

"Nationalize them," Boston-based activist Jonathan Cohn said of insurance companies.

American Benefits Council senior vice president for health policy Ilyse Schuman said that employer-based healthcare plans were unlikely to handle the stress of an increase in benefit claims from the disease without hiking prices for consumers.

"They'll be left with no option but to pass costs along to employees in the form of higher premiums next year," said Schuman. "That's really why we're asking Congress to step in and protect employer-sponsored coverage."

According to The Hill, insurers are already asking for federal relief from the burden of paying out claims:

America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the leading trade group for insurance companies, and Blue Cross Blue Shield Association urged congressional leaders in a letter last week to provide temporary "federal risk mitigation programs to support the financial stability of plans that incur extraordinary, unplanned costs in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19."

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The industry's need for a bailout in order to meet obligations built into its business model struck a number of progressive observers as indicative of the need for fundamental change in the way Americans access care.

"One more reason for Medicare for All," tweeted the Rittenberg Report blog.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) unveiled legislation to that end on Friday, calling for universal healthcare for all Americans at least through the duration of the coronavirus crisis. 

"If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we are only as safe as the least-insured among us," Sanders said in a statement announcing the plan. 

Attorney Emma Caterine told Common Dreams that bill was a better option than bailing out the industry.

"Rep. Jayapal and Sen. Sanders' bill would actually provide people healthcare without having to go through insurance companies that want to profit off this crisis," said Caterine. "Why should Congress enrich insurance companies with our public money when their duty is to protect the public, not to protect corporate profits?"

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