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Raise Your Pitchforks to the Sky (Health-Care Edition)

“Are they going to try to storm the building?” a man in a dark business suit asked a colleague inside the Capitol Hilton ballroom, during a break in the America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) conference this afternoon. “Or are we not going to let that happen?”

Directly outside the Hilton's well-guarded doors, about a hundred protesters had gathered to denounce the rapacious insurance executives they believed to be inside the Hilton. It was impossible to make out their chants from inside the hotel, but that didn’t stop the conference attendees from trying to pull back the gauzy beige curtains to take a peek at the crowd. Crowding the sidewalk and spilling down the street, the protesters wielded signs reading “Insurance Profits--Bad!” as their pitchforks.

Health Care for America Now! (HCAN), the group behind the demonstration, trotted out seven families who said they’d suffered directly at the hands of the insurance industry, and they demanded that AHIP President Karen Ignagni come out by 3 p.m. to meet them. Richard Kirsch, HCAN’s national campaign manager, told the crowd that Ignagni made $1.6 million last year and denounced her for lacking “the guts, courage, and basic decent humanity to look [the families] in the eye." After all, Kirsch pointed out, did she show up? “No!” the crowd screamed. “They’re all scared,” he concluded.

Back inside the Hilton, the conference attendees weren’t exactly quaking in their boots--most were just helping themselves to coffee and granola bars before the next session began. In the ballroom, a Pennsylvania representative from BlueCross BlueShield noted that the industry had successfully warded off a 2-percent tax on insurance comampanies that the state government had been trying to impose to raise revenue. “Point for the evil empire," he said, with a self-deprecating laugh.Downstairs in the lobby, one woman attending the conference admitted that she didn’t even work for an insurance company--she helped state governments manage their insurance issues. Peering out at the chanting, sign-waving demonstrators, she concluded: “I guess everyone has to make someone [else] evil.”