Health plans work to change their image

For almost as long as they've existed, health plans have had something of an adversarial role in the healthcare system. In particular, they've gone head-to-head with providers and employers, both of whom complain that the health plans are tough opponents who seldom make the kind of concessions they'd like to see.

Now, however, health plans are working to change their image, casting themselves in the role as friends of everyone who would like to see health reforms work out. Health plan trade groups are telling lawmakers that they can be invaluable friends in improving healthcare quality and cutting out waste--freeing up money to accomplish reformers' larger goals.

Health plans have changed their lobbying strategies, writing $20.7 million in checks to Democratic candidates last year rather than supporting Republicans, as in the past.

Health plans would like to see President Barack Obama push for a reform scheme requiring all Americans to carry health insurance, a step that plans believe would be profitable for them, even if they were forced to make changes giving them a smaller margin on each policy. They're afraid, meanwhile, that Obama and his team will opt to push for a new government-run health plan offering subsidized premiums for middle class families.

To date, the Obama administration doesn't seem to be impressed with the health plans' arguments, but it's still a long road to implementing reform. It will be interesting to see how much headway groups like America's Health Insurance Plans can make over the next few months.

To learn more about the health plans' strategy:
- read this Associated Press article