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. Gary, Indiana

    No health care plan is going to be planned – as long as working US citizens feel that their hard-earned tax payer's dollars are going toward insuring illegal immigrants!

    September 8, 2009 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  2. sensible Cape Coral FL

    Somebody suggested that 80% of all insurance premiums be spent on the people who pay those premiums. WOW! How radical can we get?

    September 8, 2009 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  3. mk

    Shame on everyone who is using this reform effort to exploit vunerable people. If a fraction of the money being used to fight reform was actually used to provide even a modest check up for an uninsured person what a diffence it would make. Greed, it is one if the seven deadliest sins, too bad enough people don't know or care.

    September 8, 2009 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  4. Nea

    Still debating and fighting with ads when by now Health Care Reform could have been pass,. The time is now to come together Democrats yes i said Democrats because the Republicans are not in your corner.

    September 8, 2009 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  5. Len in Washington

    Ahhh.....It's the "Great American Tradition of Lets Buy-a-Government."

    All of the "We The People" people need to understand that their voices cannot be heard above the noise of all that cash being dropped in the halls of Congress. If you 're serious.....REALLY serious about returning the power of our Nation to the people through honest representation of our elected officials, then we must do something about lobbyists and corporate interference in our government.

    This sucks.

    September 8, 2009 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  6. chudi

    And you tell me that Public Option is not the WAY to go, Please get real America.

    September 8, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  7. I Am The Great And Powerful Wizard of Rush; Who Are You?

    Rebirther Tea Party members for raising premiums, cutting benefits, pushing people into bankruptcy, denying claims, rescinding policies and lining the pocket of the CEOs.

    September 8, 2009 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  8. Fan of Common Sense

    Isn't it strange how "healthCARE reform" has morphed into "health INSURANCE reform?" Some of the democrats' biggest contributors, the trial lawyers and the abortion doctors, must have started getting nervous about their future incomes. :-S

    September 8, 2009 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  9. rhoward

    All this money being thrown around by the medical and insurance industries should tell you there will be no meaningful reforms to heathcare. This bunch of gutless wonders in Congress ain't about to do anything to upset the money train.

    September 8, 2009 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  10. Tanya

    Now we know for certain why there's no money leftover to pay claims, insure preexisting conditions, pay for catastrophic illnesses. And, that doesn't include the exorbitant salaries, stock options, paid to health care execs, redundant administrative costs, etc. Insurers: heal thyselves, or we'll do it for you.

    September 8, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  11. Jim Q.

    It is disgusting how much of this is being decided by throwing money around, rather than in honest discussions of the pros and cons. Have we lost the ability to have a serious policy conversation in the United States? Are we becoming ungovernable? And what role do the cable news organizations - CNN, Fox, you name it - play in this? What about the opinions of those of us who don't have thousands of dollars to waste? Should money really buy political power?

    September 8, 2009 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  12. LouAz

    "The best Represenatives and Senators money can buy !"
    Don't know who said it first, but it is really heartwarming how Congress For Sale has managed to stay ahead of inflation, deflation, recession, depression, and taxes all these years.
    What a fine group of men and women !

    September 8, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  13. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Lobbying should be banned from Washington completely. It's the ultimate conflict of interest. If big business wants deals coming out of Washington, those deals need to be vetted by the American people first and not behind some closed door hearing.

    September 8, 2009 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  14. Dean

    If the insurance lobby is willing to spend this kind of money to defeat healthcare reform think of the money they are ripping us all off for.

    September 8, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  15. Peter

    Lobbyist are egoistic maniacs, the modern American taliban!!

    September 8, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  16. Luke Brown

    These people OWN the Republican Party and the Blue Dog Democrats.

    September 8, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  17. J

    So if anyone ever wondered why there is so much misinformation and outright lies out there. There is your answer.

    Now if there was only someone with the same amount of financial incentive to support the public option there would not be a problem.

    I must tip my hat to them though, they really know how to manipulate you people.

    September 8, 2009 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  18. Ekbaaaaaaaal from AZ


    Prove it again – who are the idiots here???

    Citizens of America!!!

    Attributed to the Tea Party , Freedom "never" works organizations....

    September 8, 2009 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  19. Grant

    The insurance companies could spend a billion dollars and still make out like bandits. Wake up America! They have a license to steal and are sending ignorant folks out to do their dirty work for them at these town hall meetings. At the same time, republicans are putting on phony town hall meetings loaded with morons who would fight against the best interest of themselves and their families. What a sham!

    September 8, 2009 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  20. GI Joe

    We may as well quit pretending this is our government. We just pay them a partial salary. They are bought and paid for by Corporate America to keep Corporate America profits high at our cost.

    Vote them out.

    September 8, 2009 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  21. Pepou

    If the profit driven insurance companies are SO good, why are they afraid of competition with public option ?

    September 8, 2009 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  22. Melissa

    If they stopped wasting that money on stupid advertisements, proper health care could be developed with it. I'm so tired of this idiotic garbage. "Do as I say, not as I do" didn't work when I was 4 years old, and it won't work when I'm an adult. Stop wasting that money, and start using it on something that will actually help the country.

    September 8, 2009 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  23. Obama Victim

    $375 Million is a DROP IN THE BUCKET compared with the estimates of how much a "Government Option" would cost American Taxpayers......

    $2 TRILLION!!!

    September 8, 2009 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  24. Emma

    Hey I say let the Republicans spend their entire war chest on fighting Health Care Reform. When the Republicans have exhausted their funds and we pass true health care reform and things are working economically for this country; and, those younger than age 65 appreciate their new health care coverage pushed by the Democrats with President Obama taking the lead, lookout Republicans, Democrats will control this country for another twenty years. You will have your nose pressed against the window looking in.

    Look out Republicans, Democrats can run this country for another 20 years! Keep doing exactly what you are doing and I will be laughing 20 years from now about your ignorance in 2009!

    September 8, 2009 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  25. Billy J ..Texas..

    Money has influenced our politicians since at least the 1800's but it has never been so obvious and so obscene as in the last 40 years. And it just keeps getting worse and worse, and our citizens just kinda act like it's not there. When that is EXACTLY why joe sixpack is screwed, because we let these worms answer to lobbyists instead of the interests of the citizenry.

    September 8, 2009 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
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