In a speech to the health insurance industry's annual policy conference at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Washington today, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius changed the messaging previously released by the White House, according to ABC News.
On the day following protests by thousands of individuals threatening to arrest the insurance executives at the meeting, Sebelius took a more conservative tone, telling insurers present that, “I am not here to vilify the hard-working employees of insurance companies, but I do have two requests going forward ... Work with us ... Help us pass comprehensive health care reform."
The White House had provided excerpts from her planned speech that differed from the comments made in person.
Sebelius, according to the White House, was planning to say: "You can choose to take the millions of dollars you have stored away for your next round of ads to kill meaningful reform, and use them to start giving Americans some relief from their skyrocketing premiums."
Instead, what Sebelius said in her address was: "So there's another choice: I hope that you will take the assets that you have, the influence, the bully pulpit that you have and use it to start calling for comprehensive reform to pass. Start looking at giving Americans some relief with market strategies from those who are facing skyrocketing premiums."
According to reporters on the scene, the HHS Secretary altered her remarks in such a way that they no longer directly linked the money spent on television ads with the call for consumer relief. This follows days of messaging that targeted insurers with pejorative comments about record revenues and premium increases.
At the close of her speech, Sebelius once again urged the insurance industry to come back to the table. "It's not too late to work on this issue together," she said.
During a press conference that followed the Sebelius speech, Karen Ignagni, the head of the American Health Insurance Plans, reacted to the speech.
“We can move from vilification to problem solving," said Ignagni. "I appreciated what the Secretary said. She acknowledged the concerns that the working men and women of our industry have had since July when the vilification campaign began. I know that our members appreciated her acknowledging concerns that they must have—the working men and women—in our industry—the backbones of their communities—who are trying to do a good job everyday."
While Ignagni appeared to acknowledge the tone used by Sebelius in her speech, she voiced repeated concerns about the Obama administration's belief that it has adopted every cost control mechanism minus the public option.
Ignagni said that the insurance industry would begin work to detail the cost control mechanisms missing from the legislation, and plans to provide those to the administration, Congress and members of the media.
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