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Tommy Thompson Grifts for the Insurance Industry By Urging GOP Governors on Exchanges

So just what is Tommy Thompson, who’s contemplating an open-seat run for US Senate in Wisconsin and must cater to the Republican base if he wants to win a primary, doing with an op-ed in the Huffington Post urging states to create insurance exchanges, the signature feature of the Obama health care plan?

Some governors have a negative opinion of insurance exchanges and I believe that by doing so they are giving up a tremendous opportunity to use marketplace choice and allow insurance companies to compete in their respective states. It would be a terrible mistake to have governors give up that opportunity to set up exchanges and forfeit that opportunity back to the federal government which would limit states’ rights and their constituents’ ability to pick and choose the best insurance for themselves and their families.

Just as governors did during welfare reform, by using these kinds of free market principles to chart a new course in dealing with welfare, they gave people hope for a job and independence and did not lock them into welfare dependency. Exchanges can be and should be a market-based solution. As a Republican and an advocate of market-placed innovation, I believe that health care should possess the same entrepreneurship zeal and leverage of technology that allows us to create an Apple iPhone or Amazon e-commerce portal.

Here’s the most important thing that we must all understand about exchanges — they are a market-place that can be implemented with a light touch. Exchanges are essentially an Internet portal with supporting customer service that provide individuals and small businesses with the ability to compare rates, benefits and quality across competing insurance options by allowing private insurers to offer such competitive plans in an open and transparent marketplace.

While there’s not a whole lot wrong here – showing you the remarkable consistency between the Affordable Care Act and Republican health care plans of the 1990s – I’d hardly believe this perspective will fly among conservatives. And it’s not like Thompson had to step out on the exchanges, at least not at this point. So what’s the deal here?

Igor Volsky did just a modicum of digging and discovered that Thompson’s an old-time grifter.

So what’s driving this new-found love for what some have described as the most important part of Obamacare? Well as KHN notes, Leavitt’s consulting firm, Leavitt Partners, is heavily invested in the law’s exchanges. It “has been advising companies and state legislatures on how to create exchanges” and even hired two former government officials who helped build the Utah exchange soon after the federal health law passed.” Thompson’s connection is less direct, but as a partner for Akin/Gump, he “focuses on developing solutions for clients in the health care industry, as well as for companies doing business in the public sector.” His clients potentially include America’s Health Insurance Plans — the powerful health insurance lobby — Aetna, and other sectors of the health care industry that may stand to benefit from the very exchange structure he’s advocating.

I want to thank Volsky for acknowledging one of the prime beneficiaries of the exchange: the insurance industry. Thompson, by rallying Republican governors to maintain tight control over their exchanges, is just doing the industry’s bidding. Obviously, insurers will have a better chance to game the exchanges in red states if they’re run by the states themselves and not the federal government. This is a real concern; less than half of the 50 state exchanges have been authorized by legislation so far. The health consulting firms stand to gain lots of money from this new invention, but more so if the states maintain control.

Thompson’s vision for exchanges are very business-friendly and can allow insurers to easily sucker customers. That’s perfectly legal under the current exchange structure. So Thompson is cashing his check with the insurance industry by nudging right-wing governors to ensure their control of the marketplace.

Thompson may not be running for Senate – this op-ed is a key tell – but I’m sure he’ll do just fine.

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David Dayen

David Dayen