September 8th, 2009
01:56 PM ET
9 years ago

Health care lobbying: Political power machine

The fight over health care overhaul is on track be the most expensive issue ever to hit the hallways of Congress.

The bill for lobbyists, television ads and political donations has topped $375 million - or enough to pay the entire insurance tab for about 30,000 families a year.

The big spenders range from drug companies, hospitals and doctor groups to organizations that advocate for unions, immigrants and retirees.

The largest chunk has gone to direct lobbying of lawmakers and other policymakers. In the first half of 2009, the health care industry spent nearly $280 million on lobbyists, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Another $75 million was spent on television advertising airtime by health care interests, mostly politically left-leaning groups and health industries. And another $23 million has flowed from the health care sector into the campaign war chests of 2010 candidates for federal office, on the heals of some $95 million raised during the 2008 cycle.

"The health sector is on track in 2009 to spend more on lobbying than it has on any other year in U.S. history - and by a lot," said Dave Levinthal of the Center for Responsive Politics, which analyzes and collects lobbying and campaign spending figures.

Part of the reason for the big price tag is that so many different types of groups and companies could be affected by health care reform. Business models could be upended - for better or worse - for everything from urgent care clinics to providers of electronic medical records.

Lobbyists have been hired for groups as varied as the College of American Pathologists, which has spent $775,717 on lobbying this year, and the prestigious University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, which spent $220,000.

The other reason for the big bucks is the duration of the debate. Every week it goes on, millions more are spent trying to influence the negotiations.

The lobbying figures alone are on track to exceed half-a-billion-dollar mark by the end of the year, which would be a record.

The big payoff for such spending are open doors to policy makers.

Consider that Richard Umbdenstock, who runs the American Hospital Association has spent $7 million on lobbying this year and made seven White House visits since March to talk to staffers, according to a White House letter to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a nonprofit watchdog group that sued to get such information.

Other advocates that have made White House visits include the head of the lobbing group for drug makers, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and the head of the health insurance lobbying group, America's Health Insurance Plans.

"Health care is supposed to be a personal issue that addresses the issues of individual Americans, but now it's an issue of addressing drug and insurance industry concerns, thanks to their lobbyists," said Christine Hines of Public Citizen, a nonprofit group that tracks money and power on the Hill.

Yet, lobbying and advertising is guaranteed by the Constitution. And several big spenders, such as the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, say they're educating not advocating for any particular bill.

"All of our advertising to date has been done to raise awareness of the importance of passing bipartisan health care reform this year," said Ken
Johnson, a senior vice president at the pharmaceutical group., which has spent $13 million on lobbying this year.

Johnson points out that his association's members have told policymakers they'll commit $80 billion to cutting costs over the next 10 years. However, the group is also wary of any attempts of legislation that would allow government to use its purchasing power to force drugmakers to negotiate with pricing or allowing cheaper foreign drugs to be imported.

"Our companies directly employ nearly 700,000 workers around the country as well as another 2.5 million indirectly," Johnson said. "I would say that we have a pretty significant stake in this debate, too."

A popular way to influence public opinion is through television ads, and August was the biggest month this year for health care advocacy ads, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group.

About $1 million a day has been spent on health care reform TV ads since June, said Evan Tracey, president of the the media research group.

In August alone, $20 million was spent on 34,000 ads, with foes of congressional reform proposals outspending proponents. Earlier in the year ads supporting reform outnumbered those opposing by a margin of 2-to-1.

The buyers range from left-leaning groups Health Care for America Now, whose members include unions and immigrant advocacy groups, to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and anti-tax groups such as Our Country Deserves Better.

"What you've got is the perfect storm of lots of stakeholders who have access to all kinds of capital, so they're putting everything into this," said Tracey, whose group consults for CNN. "Everyone has a dog in this fight, that's what is compounding this from an advocacy perspective."

Another way to influence the debate is through election campaign contributions. Although it is early in the 2010 election cycle, the health care
sector has contributed $23 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

One of the biggest beneficiaries have been conservative Blue Dog Democrats.

Many Blue Dogs are on the fence about controversial health care issues, such as whether to create government run insurance plans. Their votes are crucial to passing a final bill, so they also tend to attract more attention and campaign contributions than other Democrats and Republicans.

Health and accident insurers, HMOs and health services organizations increased their contributions to Blue Dogs from $106,200 in the first quarter of 2009 to $122,650 in the second, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

That is a 15% increase. By comparison, Democrats not in the Blue Dog group saw a 3% hike in contributions.

Filed under: Health care
soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. southerncousin

    Let's not forget that all of that stimulus money went to unions and ACORN so they could provide money and muscle (like the lib who bit the conservatives finger off). Don't discount the non cash thuggery contribution of the libs.

    September 8, 2009 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  2. Moderate Democrat

    "Health and accident insurers, HMOs and health services organizations increased their contributions to Blue Dogs from $106,200 in the first quarter of 2009 to $122,650 in the second, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. "
    Any democrat that is so unfaithful to his constituents that he is bought out by the health care firms needs to be voted out. Get rid of the democrats that vote no and replace them with a true patriotic american that will look out for all his/her constituents by providing them LIFE in the form of AFFORDABLE Health care.

    Only vote for YES VOTES on the Health Care Reform.

    September 8, 2009 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  3. Gary's Opinion

    Get the labor unions and the trial lawyers out of the political arena and then I'll be okay with getting the companies out of the debate as well. The labor unions destroyed the steel and auto industry and their involvement in healthcare will only cause costs and taxes to's like they always want something for nothing. The trial lawyers oppose malpractice reform and frankly serious malpractice reform is the most important and impactful way to cut medical expenses

    September 8, 2009 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  4. John, Brooklyn, New York

    Its clear that, if that they are willing to invest this much in their advertising efforts, the mountains of money the health insurance industry makes on the backs of sick people must be beyond imagination.

    September 8, 2009 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  5. Johnny DC

    This administration and Congress have been purchased by big unions and liberal radicals.

    Spew all you want, Liberals, about how big insurance companies are the evil manipulators, but what of the big unions and corrupt bureaucracies? No mention?

    Keep pretending to be fair and balanced, Liberals. You are the ones that pour hate on issues, rather than debate.

    September 8, 2009 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  6. CC

    Always follow the money!!! If companies can spend hundreds of bilions fighting against reform, how much do they stand to make if there is no reform??

    September 8, 2009 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  7. Some republican guy

    I think that the pharmaceutical and insurance industries are so scared and desperate because their very concerned about our health and well being being comprimised. Have a nice day!

    September 8, 2009 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  8. Vicki

    Too bad these companies that are lobbying against health care reform do not take the money they have spent and spend it on people who have no health insurance or help people who cannot make their premiums!!!

    September 8, 2009 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  9. Julia - Native American from Idaho

    Well if the insurance companies bribe all the politicians, like the one we have in Idaho, traitor to the democratic party, Walt Minnick, who has close ties to Primary Health Network, actually he was on the board of directors, we will never see health care reform, He also has investment in health and insurance companies. such as Pfizer, Wellpoint, CVS Caremark and there are probably others.

    September 8, 2009 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  10. Bedtime for Obonzo

    Cue up the liberal comments about "how this lobbying money could have been spent to provide health care to the poor." If you lived in a command and control economy (where we may be in a year or two), then they might have a point. But, we don't, so it's just more liberal wishful thinking. On the other hand, that money could also have bought a couple of F-22 Raptors. There's my wish list....

    September 8, 2009 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  11. Alan

    So now we know. The health insurance industry is as bad or worse than Bank of America. Bank of America, which accepted BILLIONS in handouts, then turned around and bought other banks, is throwing people out of their homes but not taking over the titles, so the displaced homeowners are still held responsible for the property they can no longer live in and that the bank now supposedly "owns." Heartless.

    But this is only dealing with where someone LIVES.

    It appears the health insurance industry would rather spend millions FIGHTING lower cost health insurance for everyone than just putting the money into providing it. This is messing with peoples' HEALTH.

    Forget the Republicans. Move forward NOW.

    September 8, 2009 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  12. Mississippi Mike

    The correct answer to the question of, "Who has invested the most into Obama's political career," is unions. That's right unions. If that's not the definition of narrowly focused special interest group I don't know what is.

    September 8, 2009 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  13. Mike

    I am tired of the big corporate health care medical insurance companies and their lobbyist and top executives telling me want to do with my money. Its my money and my health, and family. I don't care about their 'greedy profit' margin. I worry about my family and their quality of health and affordability. Right now, I can't afford good quality health care medical insurance for my family. If Senator Max Baucus of Montana does 'not' make clear his position on the 'public option' in the proposed or current health care reform legislation bill.., I, my family and fiends will 'not' be voting for Max the next time around. Mike in Montana

    September 8, 2009 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  14. Tim

    The bill for lobbyists, television ads and political donations has topped $375 million — or enough to pay the entire insurance tab for about 30,000 families a year. What more needs to be said? Oh yeah, the insurance companies really do want you to have affordable health care...NOT!!!!

    September 8, 2009 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  15. Angela

    i knew that this would happen. if you do not have money, then you do not have health – plain and simple.

    well i hope the rich will still be rich as the people die from lack of health care. i hope the insurance lobbyist will still have a job once no one can afford insurance and drops it. and i know the next "stimulus" will got to them and the hospitals because no one will be able to afford to stay healthy.

    September 8, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  16. bill

    The big question is how the new health plan will affect small businesses and the state government costs and associated state income tax increases as well as federal tax increases. Illegal immigrants pay no taxes and still will be the most diverse group benefited by the Federal Government Plan. Congressmen and Senators should be considering the impacts to the majority of people of their own states. I am an independent in Louisiana but I am registered as a democrat. I have both conservative and liberal feelings regarding the issues. I believe in helping those that can't help themselves like our senior citizens and disabled war veterans.

    September 8, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  17. Mike in MN

    I thought Obama was going to remove the evil influnce of lobbiest from Washington.
    I guess he changed his mind when he made a closed door deal with the drug lobby to not allow Medicare to negoiate volume discounts and save Medicare billions of dollars in exchange for the drug lobby to spend 100s of milions on an ad campaign to support Obamacare.
    So when you see the ads from the drug company lobby supporting Obamacare, remember they were paid for the the Obama/drug lobby deal.

    September 8, 2009 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  18. sharon

    O.K. you CEO's of lobbying firms/Health Care you not realize that you too are just ONE step away from needing a GOOD health care bill?

    waht happens to your family if you have a lot of medical bills that will not be covered?

    Who will buy your food?
    Who will pay your morgage?
    Who will feed your kids/wife/husband?
    Who will pay your car bills/insurance?
    Can you live without a house?
    Can you live without a car?
    Can you live without food?
    Your time is coming...............hope you have planned for a longggggggggg way down the road for you and yours.......
    if not>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    September 8, 2009 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
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