The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, following a recent AHIP report, has been showing commercials claiming that health insurance prices will skyrocket if the Baucus bill passes in the Senate. The commercial is infuriating because it is rather like Dolores Umbridge telling us all that deep down we know we deserve to be punished. “You want to tax profits on Cadillac plans? Tut, tut, that’s means we’ll have to hurt you.” So far, the push seems to have backfired and supporters of a public option including Rep. Anthony Weiner have claimed that the brash tactic has made their colleagues more receptive to a strong public option.

What bothers me about the situation is that I don’t really know what the play is. I generally take for granted that the PR people for the insurance companies know their business better than I do, so when they do something that seems so obviously counterproductive for them, it makes me wonder what is really going on. I am trying to be optimistic and see this as a desperate screw-up. Or maybe it’s overconfidence. After all, they did get their universal coverage mandate and about half a billion in subsidies to boot. Maybe they felt they couldn’t lose. It seems ungrateful to run the ad after getting so many plums.

Moreover, to start making threats before the bill passes the senate is just baffling. It’s rather like your crazy ex calling to tell you she’s going to slash your tires tomorrow. The difference is that the insurance companies really don’t want the negative attention. As it is, the senate could amend the bill to prohibit such punitive measures. Maybe they are counting on progressives making a strong push on the senate floor in response to these ads and that the push will provoke a conservative backlash. At any rate, I hope it’s obvious now to everyone in Congress why a mandate to carry health insurance must also come with a public option or at the very least, heavy regulation. And as long as they are amending the bill they should add a provision requiring the insurance companies to incise on the back of their own hands, “I must not tell lies.”

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