Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Health Insurance Industry Lies, But Is It Wrong?

AHIP, the industry lobbying group for health insurance corporations, paid the venerable firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to take a look at the bill that worked its way through the Senate Finance Committee yesterday. In their report, which the industry trumpeted loudly and made its way on to front pages of the nation's most prestigious newspapers, was the claim that costs would skyrocket given some of the the provisions of the bill and that health insurance companies would have no choice but to spike rates to roughly double what they are now.

But then, one day later, when folks actually looked at the report and noted something one page one, they went back to PricewaterhouseCoopers and ask for clarification. Indeed, it is true, said the auditors, we were asked by our client, AHIP, to work up the numbers ignoring all cost savings. So, if you remove the cost containment measures, the cost goes up. Well...yeah, that's true, but that isn't what the insurers were saying this meant. They were trying to get us to believe that this bill would not help but harm us by making health insurance more costly when it wouldn't be. That's lying.

But lying is not always wrong. It is context-dependent. Think of that scene from Life of Brian -- this bloke won't haggle!

Brian is wrong to not haggle because he is breaking the social contract of the marketplace and since effective haggling requires misrepresentation, he's wrong not to lie. If a running back doesn't juke to try to deceive an open field tackler, trying to get him to believe he's cutting right when he is really going left, he's not doing his job. If a poker player refuses to bluff on moral grounds, he's doing something wrong by depriving his fellow players of the good game they expected when he agreed to sit at the table with them.

The question here is whether the health insurance corporations are wrongly lying or merely haggling. Is it expected that people in the marketplace of political ideas will be like the merchant in the fictional bazaar in Life of Brian or is the expectation that you will advocate for your position up to but not across the line of misrepresentation? Is the AHIP lie part of how the game is played or is it a foul?