August will be a make-or-break month for the drive to revamp health care, as members of Congress use the recess to either sell the need for an overhaul to voters or continue criticism of the insurance industry, the chief of the insurers' main lobbying arm said Monday.
Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, told editors and reporters from The Associated Press that if lawmakers use their break to vilify her industry, "members of Congress will come back to Washington without a strong sense that health care reform is doable. And that would be a lost opportunity. We think health care reform is going to be won or lost in August."
Hoping to buttress support for their effort to reshape health care, President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies have targeted the insurance industry with some of their sharpest barbs. Obama has accused insurers of "abuses" and "record profits," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has called them "villains," and Obama's campaign organization, Organizing for America, accused them Monday of "stirring up fear with false rumors."
Ignagni said such attacks are designed as a distraction as the health care debate becomes more contentious, saying, "When polls are slipping, people turn to tried-and-true tactics."
Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami said lawmakers were talking to constituents about an overhaul that would let doctors and patients make decisions, not insurance companies.
"Health insurance reform means that never again will Americans be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition, lose their health coverage if they lose their job, if they become sick or if they file for bankruptcy because of medical bills," he said.
The insurance industry says it favors bipartisan changes in a health system it concedes has become unaffordable for many. But it is battling a proposal at the core of Democrats' blueprints: Creating an optional, government-run health insurance plan. Democrats say public coverage would push costs down by competing with private insurers, and the idea gets strong support in many polls.