SAWYER: Mr. Williams, Aetna, so take one. An insurance company we hear
all over the company people see their premiums going up 119 percent in
the last several years. They see the profits of the insurance companies
in the billions and billions of dollars. Even in a lean year, they see
profits in the billions of dollars. Is the president right that you need
to be kept honest?
RONALD WILLIAMS, PRESIDENT AND CEO OF AETNA: Well, I would first say I would commend the president for the commitment he's made to really try to get and keep everyone covered. And I think, as a health insurance company, we're committed to that.
In the context of the question that you asked, I think that it's
difficult to compete against a player who's also the person who's
referring the game. And so I think in the context of thinking about a
government plan, what we say is, let's identify the problem we're trying
to solve. Let's work collaboratively with physicians, hospitals, and
other health care professionals, and make certain that we solve the
problem, as opposed to introduce a new competitor who has the rulemaking
ability that government would have.
SAWYER: Mr. President?
OBAMA: Well, I think that...
SAWYER: Premiums going up...
OBAMA: First of all, I want to say that Mr. Walters (sic) has been very
cooperative. We've been having a series of conversations, and I
appreciate the constructive manner in which we've been trying to work
But I just want to make clear that the government, whatever rules it
provides to insurers, a public plan would have to abide by those same
rules. So we're not talking about unlevel -- unequal playing field.
We're talking about a level playing field.
I also want to point out that one of the incentives for private insurers
to get involved in this process is that potentially they're going to
have a whole bunch of new customers, paying customers.
And if we are, as part of health care reform, going to go forward in
providing additional coverage to people who either don't have health
insurance or who are underinsured -- and that's a lot of working people.
I just want to be clear. These are people who are working everyday and
are still finding themselves having a great deal of trouble, and
oftentimes collecting huge amounts of debt.
If we're going to give all these new customers to the insurance
industry, one of the things that we should say is, in return, that we
change some of our practices and at least have some competition so that,
for example, you can't eliminate people for pre-existing conditions, you
can't cherry-pick just the healthiest folks, and a public option is one
tool by which we can do this.
And I think that the insurance companies will still thrive. They've got
terrific leadership. Aetna is a well-managed company, and I'm confident
that your shareholders are going to do well.
GIBSON: Mr. President, there is a lot of doubts about this as to whether
it's a level playing field. The Lewin Group studied this. There's 177
million in this country with private insurance through their employers.
That group estimates, with government insurance, that employers will go
to that because it will be cheaper. And they estimate, the head of the
Lewin Group, I believe, is here, Mr. Sheils -- they estimated that
two-thirds of people would go to the private -- go the public insurance
Let me get you a microphone. Can we get him a microphone, please? Thanks.