Occupy Wall Street vs. Mortgage Bankers and Health Industry
October 13, 2011
Mary Wisniewski / Reuters & Wendell Potter / iWatch News
A coalition called "Stand Up Chicago" is planning a protest against economic inequality on Monday at meeting of the Futures Industry Association and the American Mortgage Bankers Association. The lobbyists for U.S. health insurers surely have to be feeling a little uneasy knowing that thousands of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators who have been marching and protesting in Washington as well as New York and other cities might target them in the days ahead.
Thousands Expected at Chicago Financial Conferences Protests
Mary Wisniewski / Reuters
CHICAGO (October 10, 2011) -- A coalition called "Stand Up Chicago" is planning a protest against economic inequality on Monday at meeting of the Futures Industry Association and the American Mortgage Bankers Association.
The coalition, representing a variety of community and worker groups, expects thousands of people marching from five different downtown locations Monday afternoon "to reclaim our jobs, our homes and our schools," according to its web site.
If the coalition gets the numbers it expects, this would be the biggest Chicago protest since protests focusing on economic inequality began in New York last month.
"We really want to highlight the role the financial industry has played," said Adam Kader of Arise Chicago, an interfaith workers' rights group which is part of coalition. He said the demonstration will focus on foreclosures, unemployment, and lack of municipal funding for key services.
"They're here in our backyard, so this is the time to send a message about how we're really hurting," Kader said. Other groups participating include the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. The marches are expected to converge at the Art Institute of Chicago, where the FIA plans an evening reception.
Kader said hundreds are willing to risk arrest by sitting on Chicago's main shopping street, Michigan Avenue, and blocking traffic. More demonstrations are planned for the next three days.
Mortgage Bankers Association CEO David Stevens warned the morning general session of the conference that protesters were expected to arrive at the hotel in the afternoon. He told attendees not to "engage or confront" the protesters, and advised they use pedestrian tunnels and others means to leave the building if needed.
Stevens advised conference attendees to "keep the business in the building" and let protesters speak outside.
Chicago has already seen weeks of daily protests outside the Federal Reserve Bank by "Occupy Chicago," an echo of the much larger Wall Street protests. Occupy Chicago demonstrators plan to join in the Stand Up Chicago demonstration.
About three dozen people were at the corner of LaSalle and Jackson on Monday morning, the site of the ongoing Occupy Chicago protest, beating plastic drums and carrying signs with slogans like "We are the 99 percent," a reference to the idea that most of the country's wealth is controlled by a small group. A woman passed out Dunkin' Donuts Munchkins and thanked the protesters for being there.
"Some people say we are the Tea Party for the Democratic Party," said Emilio A. Baez, a 17-year-old Barrington High School student who said he has spent several days and nights with the Occupy Chicago protesters. His voice was hoarse.
"That's Bullshit. We are the working class, for a mass movement of democracy." The group's demands, he said, include turning banks into public utilities and changing the social structure so that it is no longer "a minority elite ruling over a mass majority."
'Occupy Wall Street' Should Also Take Aim at Health Insurance Companies
Health insurers trade group is calling the tune in Washington
Wendell Potter / iWatch News
(October 10, 2011) -- The lobbyists for U.S. health insurers surely have to be feeling a little uneasy knowing that thousands of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators who have been marching and protesting in Washington as well as New York and other cities might target them in the days ahead. After all, the headquarters of the insurers' biggest lobbying and PR group, America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), at 601 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., is just blocks away from Freedom Plaza, where the demonstrators have set up camp, and problems with health insurers appear to be near the top of the list of protesters' concerns.
Health Care for America Now, an umbrella advocacy group that played a key role in the health care reform debate, last week analyzed the 546 comments that had been posted by then on "We are the 99 percent " Tumblr site. It found that 262 of the comments mention such problems as getting denials for doctor-ordered care from their insurance companies and having to forego treatment because of hefty out-of-pocket costs.
In my book, Deadly Spin, I wrote about how the "Wall Street takeover" of the American health care system has created many of the problems mentioned in the Tumblr site. I also described how AHIP offices have often been command central for developing and implementing coordinated efforts to derail health care reform efforts in the past and how the organization helped shape major provisions of the Affordable Care Act, which Congress passed last year.
Over the past few years, many of the largest health insurance firms have converted from nonprofit to for-profit status and have been acquired by huge corporations whose stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Today, more than one-third of all Americans are enrolled in a health benefit plan owned and operated by just five large insurers -- a group that last year hauled in nearly $12 billion in profits.
These companies have grown so big and powerful that they now often determine who has access to affordable care and who doesn't. Their business practices, condoned by investors and Wall Street analysts alike, have contributed to the growing number of Americans without health insurance -- more than 50 million of us at last count.
I worked for two of those large companies, Humana and CIGNA, during my nearly 20 years in the insurance industry, and I participated in many strategy meetings at AHIP's offices in Washington where plans were hatched to influence public policy.
I am now watching how AHIP is getting Obama administration officials to write the regulations required by the Affordable Care Act in ways that benefit insurance companies more than consumers. And I have talked to administration officials who have quit their jobs in disgust as the White House has repeatedly sided with insurers rather than consumer advocates, as important regulations were nearing completion.
Here's an example. Earlier this summer, the administration announced rules pertaining to new rights we supposedly now have, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, to appeal decisions made by insurers that don't go our way. When the Department of Health and Human Services quietly released the regulations in late June, consumer advocates realized that insurers had, for all practical purposes, written them.
As Sabrina Corlette of Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute wrote, the administration narrowed the range of issues consumers can appeal, gave insurers up to 72 hours, rather than 24 hours, to made decisions on emergency care claims and weakened a provision requiring health plans to provide enrollees with information about their appeal rights in understandable language. Administration officials also cut in half the number of days patients have for appeals and allowed insurers to frequently choose their own "judge and jury" when their enrollees request an external review.
Just last week, AHIP's muscle was on display when the Institutes of Medicine released guidelines for the Obama administration to follow in establishing the "essential benefits package" that all health plans will have to offer on the health care exchanges, or insurance marketplaces, beginning in 2014.
In January, an AHIP executive warned the IOM about making the benefits package too "rich." Insurers want the package to be as skinny as possible, which will enable them to continue selling plans that, in many cases, are inadequate for many peoples' needs.
The IOM's recommendation is almost exactly what AHIP suggested.
So if the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators want to show up in front of the offices of some of the most important and influential people in Washington, whose strings are pulled by a handful of people on Wall Street, they will not want to miss 601 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Trust me on this.
Wendell Potter is former Vice President of corporate communications at CIGNA, one of the United States' largest health insurance companies. In June 2009, he testified against the HMO industry in the U.S. Senate as a whistleblower. He is now the Senior Fellow on Health Care for the Center for Media and Democracy in Madison, Wisconsin.
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