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January 22, 2010

Funding for Hill health care attack ads stirs controversy

AHIP, which includes member WellPoint, contributed to TV ads

Indiana’s largest health insurance provider covertly contributed to U.S. Chamber of Commerce television ads attacking Rep. Baron Hill for his stance on health care, officials with Indiana Change That Works stated.

Multiple reports including a National Journal article connected Indianapolis-based WellPoint to the organization America’s Health Insurance Companies, or AHIP, which helped fund the U.S. Chamber ads that ran last year.

According to Indiana Change That Works, the U.S. Chamber spent $395,672 in advertisements against Hill, and also footed about $270,000 in the state attacking Congressmen Joe Donnelly and Brad Ellsworth.

The group claims AHIP collected between $10 and $20 million from WellPoint and five other insurance companies they represent for the national advertising campaign while publicly stating they supported health care reform.

Hoosiers “should be furious to know that instead of working to bring down outrageous rates, Wellpoint is spending millions to kill legislation that would provide us with quality, affordable health care,” said Tim Thomas, state director for Indiana Change That Works.

“The worst part is, they aren’t even honest about it — they funnel their message through the Chamber of Commerce.”

In an e-mail response, AHIP Press Secretary Robert Zirkelbach stated the organization supports health care reform, but is mindful of the businesses it represents.

“Reform needs to make health care more affordable, particularly for small businesses that struggle to provide coverage to their employees,” he said.

“We share the very serious concerns employers have raised about provisions that will increase health care costs, including new premium taxes that will hit small businesses hard. So when the employer community — our customers — asked us to contribute to their campaign, we readily agreed.”

What kind of reform was being promoted by WellPoint seems to be the question. While Indiana Change That Works accused Wellpoint of playing both sides of the fence, a July news release from the company criticized Congressional reform plans and touted its own recommendations instead.

“This only serves to make health care more expensive and less accessible, threatening the stability of the coverage most Americans have today,” the release stated in reference to reform bills that were then being considered in the House and Senate well before the health package passed in December.

Hill spokeswoman Katie Moreau declined to comment for the story.

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