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TheStreet Open House

Health Care Insurers Still on Defensive

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- The debate over health care reform pitted Democrats against Republicans, progressives against the tea party -- and a whole lot of folks against health insurance companies.

A little more than a year after President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law, those debates continue and health insurance plans remain in the cross-hairs.

Health insurers remain in the political cross-hairs, but industry experts suggest there is some scapegoating going on.

To be sure, there is plenty of ammunition for those with an anti-insurer bent. There are rescissions, denied treatments and multimillion-dollar executive salaries (even when an insurer is deemed a "nonprofit"). But can a case be made that insurance companies, blamed for rising costs both within and beyond their control, have been scapegoats?

Consider the rhetoric of Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in the midst of the health care reform debate:

"They are the villains in this," she said of insurance companies and their lobbying efforts. "They have been part of the problem in a major way. It's almost immoral, what they are doing. Of course, they've been immoral all along. They are doing everything in their power to stop a public option from happening, and the public has to know about it."

One might ask, and the health insurance industry does, whether any other enterprise -- aside from, perhaps, oil companies -- has been so reviled for defending what it sees as in its best interest?

"Going into this debate, if you asked families and consumers what their No. 1 health care concern was, it would be rising health care costs that were making it difficult for employers and families to be able to ensure coverage and taking a larger and larger share of their budgets," says Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, a national association representing nearly 1,300 companies, including Aetna (AET), Cigna (CI), Humana (HUM) and United Health Group (UNH). "Unfortunately, legislation focused on health insurance reform, rather than health care reform, and it largely ignored the issue of health care costs. All the focus has been on the health insurance industry as a way to distract attention away from the real issue, which is soaring medical costs."

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