First lady attacks insurance industry



WASHINGTON (AP)—Hillary Rodham Clinton accused insurance companies Monday of waging a deceitful campaign against the Clinton health plan to protect profits and preserve the ability to cut people off when they get sick.

‘‘It is time for you and for every American to stand up and say to the insurance industry, ‘Enough is enough. We want our health care system back,’‘’ she told more than 2,000 pediatricians.

But the industry said it was the first lady who was guilty of deception and promised to press its $6.5 million advertising campaign that raises questions about President Clinton’s health plan.

Mrs. Clinton’s voice was fraught with emotion as she spoke of the ‘‘struggle’‘ for health reform and praised the American Academy of Pediatrics for fighting for children.

The group’s new president, pediatrician Betty A. Lowe, once treated Chelsea Clinton in Little Rock.

The first lady castigated the ‘‘Harry and Louise’‘ television ads run by the Health Insurance Association of America that question key features of the Clinton plan.

‘‘One of the great lies that is currently afoot in this country is that the president’s plan will limit choice. To the contrary, the president’s plan enhances choice,’‘ said Mrs. Clinton.

She referred sarcastically to the ‘‘homey kitchen ads’‘ that end with a woman sighing, ‘‘There must be a better way.’‘

‘‘What you don’t get told in the ad is that it is paid for by insurance companies who think their way is the better way,’‘ said Mrs. Clinton.

‘‘They like being able to exclude people from coverage because the more they can exclude, the more money they can make,’‘ she charged.

Charles N. Kahn III, the health insurers’ executive vice president, called Mrs. Clinton’s attack on the ads ‘‘a total misrepresentation of the facts.’‘

‘‘It’s just another example of the administration trying to paint us as the black hat to somehow help their cause,’‘ Kahn said.

The ads by the industry-created ‘‘Coalition for Health Insurance Choices’‘ state at the end that the Health Insurance Association of America provided ‘‘major funding.’‘

An earlier ad warned that Clinton would force people ‘‘to pick from a few health care plans designed by government bureaucrats.’‘ The latest warns that Washington would cap spending on health care and say ‘‘that’s it.’‘

Kahn said the ads may have prompted the White House to abandon an earlier proposal to limit the number of fee-for-service plans in each health alliance.

He said health insurers support comprehensive reform, including doing away with exclusions for pre-existing conditions and allowing all Americans to keep coverage when they change jobs or take ill.

The health insurance industry trade group’s 271 member companies sell 35 percent of all private insurance.

Five major companies—Aetna, Cigna, Metropolitan Life, Prudential and the Travelers—have defected from the trade group.

The main target of the insurers’ fire is Clinton’s attempt to limit the growth of private insurance premiums to keep costs down and his plan to put most people in huge, exclusive health insurance purchasing cooperatives or alliances in their home regions.

These alliances would offer a variety of health plans, including coverage offered by the commercial insurers.

Mrs. Clinton blamed the insurers for bringing the health care system to ‘‘the brink of bankruptcy.’‘

She acknowledged that the White House plan would make 40 percent of Americans pay more for health insurance, but said 25 percent would gain much better coverage and the other 15 percent ‘‘are the cherries that the insurance companies love to pick.’‘

‘‘If you’re 24 years old and you’re a vegetarian and you work out three hours a day, you are an insurance company’s dream,’‘ she said.

‘‘They don’t think you will ever get sick,’‘ she said. But ‘‘if you have a motorcycle accident on your way to work out, you may find that your insurance policy isn’t that good.’‘

The 46,000-member pediatricians’ group has not formally embraced the Clinton reform blueprint, but its leaders seconded much of what Mrs. Clinton said.

Lowe, the medical director of the Arkansas Children’s Hospital, said pediatricians now hesitate to write down a diagnosis that a child has rheumatoid arthritis because it means ‘‘that family cannot move or change jobs’‘ for fear of losing insurance.

The Clinton plan would provide only five free doctor visits for children ages 6 to 19. The pediatricians favor six free visits in the teenage years alone.