LOS ANGELES — The nation's biggest health insurers on Wednesday acknowledged funding TV ads designed to kill or water down the health-care overhaul measure, after a published report said the spots were paid for in secret to avoid a public-relations fiasco.
The trade group America's Health Insurance Plans said it put up funds at the behest of its members. AHIP represents the nation's largest insurers, including Aetna Inc., Cigna Corp., Humana Inc., UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Wellpoint Inc.
AHIP acknowledged paying for the ads after a story appeared in the National Journal's online editions late Tuesday.
"Reform needs to make health care more affordable, particularly for small businesses that struggle to provide coverage to their employees," AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach said in an e-mailed statement.
"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," Zirkelbach went on to say.
Citing health-care lobbyists, the National Journal said each insurer secretly put up at least $1 million and that the organization as a whole contributed $10 million to $20 million dating back to last summer.
The Journal reported that AHIP solicited the funds and funneled them to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to underwrite the ads. Two business coalitions set up and subsidized by the chamber were responsible for the ads, the story said.
AHIP started funding the ads last summer as the industry came under fire from lawmakers and the Obama administration over high profit growth and abuses.
But AHIP did not want to fund the effort directly, the Journal story said, for fear of running up against the same public relations problems that the industry encountered with its "Harry and Louise" ads that helped kill health-care reform under the Clinton administration.
AHIP did not fund the entire effort, the story indicates, as the chamber spent $70 million to $100 million on the ads.
In Washington on Wednesday, President Obama and senior Democratic lawmakers emerged from marathon health care talks with a declaration that they had made tough gains — but no deal yet.