As prospects of a comprehensive takeover dimming by the day, progressives in town are desperate for a scapegoat. Fortunately for them, however (and unfortunately for insurers,) the Administration settled on health insurance companies as the bad guys a long time ago.

Cue this week’s AHIP (America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade association) annual meeting. Given the meeting’s ill-fated location in Washington – a town known best for its political theater – it was unsurprising that activists organized a protest march against these bloodthirsty capitalists on Tuesday, cleverly chanting “hey hey, ho ho, insurance companies got to go.” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called the insurance companies’ actions “criminal.” Despite calls to action by AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka and DCCC chairman Howard Dean, however, protesters’ attempts to conduct “citizens arrests” on executives fell flat.

Given the inflammatory rhetoric, one can only assume that the AFL-CIO and the AFT have relentlessly advocated for increased quality and lower costs in the industries that they represent, right? Maybe? Sort of?

Um, no.

The New Yorker highlighted several months ago how the AFT has a nasty habit of defending subpar teachers. Consider that, and then check out the Mercatus Center’s Veronique deRugy in, where she adeptly charts the ways that teachers’ unions have benefited from the stimulus – small wonder, given that legislators’ favorite fear-mongering tactic is “we need more money or we’re going to fire thousands of teachers” (cough, Governor Quinn of Illinois, cough).

Our friends over at the Alliance for Worker Freedom have a ton of great information on the numerous policies that the AFL-CIO (and the SEIU, and others) have advocated that have driven up the costs of goods and services in this country, making America less competitive in the global economy. The Cato Institute also has a recent study on how public sector unions negatively affect taxpayers. Reason Magazine’s Matt Welch just debated this topic the other day, which I also recommend if you can listen in the background at work. 

These unions would be well-served to look in the mirror before they start lobbing unfounded accusations at… well, anyone. 

And really, at the end of the day – insurance companies aren’t the bad guys. They’re the easiest mark in the debate given the esoteric nature of their business: managing risk for a fixed price. Punishing insurance companies and imposing price controls on premiums isn’t the right way to address the underlying driver of health care costs.

A better way to make insurance more affordable – and in turn, to cover more people – is to give individuals more control over their health care dollars, so that they make smart choices with their money. In addition, removing mandates that drive prices up and changing the tax treatment of individual plans to enjoy the same breaks that employer-sponsored plans do would give consumers more flexibility in selecting (and keeping) the plans they need. Fixing health care so doesn’t require a one-size-fits all government solution. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.