The insurance industry, fearing that its future may be jeopardized by President-elect Bill Clinton's plan to reform health care, Wednesday asked a leading figure in the health care debate, Rep. Bill Gradison (R-Ohio), to serve as its most visible lobbyist in Washington.
Gradison, who currently serves as the ranking minority member on the House Ways and Means subcommittee on health, was offered the presidency of the 270-member Health Insurance Assn. of America. He did not immediately accept the job, instead issuing a statement saying that he was considering the offer.
Special interest groups have long used former members of Congress and other ex-government officials as lobbyists, but the insurance industry's bid to hire away a prominent sitting member of Congress had few precedents.
Ian M. Rolland, chairman of HIAA, said that the group wants Gradison because of his stature in Washington and his knowledge of health care issues.
"We think he would be very effective in representing the HIAA," said Rowland, who is chairman of Lincoln National Corp. "He brings a significant knowledge base. He is highly respected on Capitol Hill by both Republicans and Democrats. And he has the kind of stature to develop a program that reflects our concerns and keep the membership together.
Among other things, HIAA officials are hoping that Gradison can persuade some of the big insurance companies that have abandoned HIAA, such as CIGNA, Aetna and Metropolitan, to rejoin the group. These companies apparently left HIAA in a dispute over what position the insurance industry would take in response to Clinton's proposal to reform health care.
In an effort to recover its political momementum after the loss of these big insurers, HIAA last week issued a new reform proposal for health care that for the first time called for coverage of all Americans. The statement was widely seen as an indication that HIAA is willing to compromise to preserve its role in the health care system.