Sweeney agreed, adding that the call for an alternate healthcare model “has new urgency at this moment. A public option is not only smart policy, but also a super popular economic populist issue that will help lead Democrats to victory in November—and it should be a priority for a new administration.”  

As Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik noted last week—amid the first rumblings of Aetna’s draw down—Congress and the Obama administration did the health insurance industry an “enormous favor in enacting the Affordable Care Act in 2010.” Not only did they place Big Insurance at the “center of Obamacare …they killed the public option,” believing it to be a foot-in-the-door for single-payer.

He points out that health insurance companies at all levels are “reaping the benefits of Obamacare,” and argues that alternately these “whining” insurers are likely seeking something. In Aetna’s case, Hiltzik said it likely has to do with the fact that the U.S. Department of Justice is attempting to block its proposed $37-billion merger with Humana.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) expressed a similar hunch, writing on Facebook: “The health of the American people should not be used as bargaining chips to force the government to bend to one giant company’s will.”

“It’s a mistake to view insurers’ withdrawals from ACA exchanges as a sign that it’s impossible to provide affordable health coverage to more Americans. It’s more a sign that the fundamental error in the ACA’s design was giving too much away to the insurance industry.”
—Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times

Aetna’s announcement followed similar news from Anthem, Humana, and UnitedHealth Group which all recently dialed back their participation in the exchanges.

And despite corporate media spin on the departures, Hiltzik concluded that “it’s a mistake to view insurers’ withdrawals from ACA exchanges as a sign that it’s impossible to provide affordable health coverage to more Americans. It’s more a sign that the fundamental error in the ACA’s design was giving too much away to the insurance industry.”

In a scathing op-ed published weeks before the official announcement,  Wendell Potter, author of “Nation on the Take,” said that it “disgusts” him that big for-profit health insurers are so blatantly demonstrating that “nothing—absolutely nothing—is more important to them than making their rich shareholders even richer. If that means making it more difficult for low- and middle-income Americans to get the medical care they need, so be it.”

Breaking down how Aetna specifically has profited during President Obama’s tenure, he wrote: “Between April 1, 2009, and today, Aetna’s share price has increased 525%. Any interest among the shareholders to share some of that wealth with folks who are struggling to get the care they need? Are you crazy?”

As Richard Kirsch, former National Campaign Manager of Health Care For America Now and Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, said Tuesday, “Big commercial insurance corporations continue to put profits before patients’ health, which is why Hillary Clinton’s call for a public insurance option so that everyone in every exchange in the country has a choice of an affordable option is more essential than ever.”

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