News & Politics

Health Care in America: Pay To Play Isn't Working . . . For Anyone

Health industry lobbyists are raking in windfall profits this year, and we're all getting screwed.
At a time when the bean counters on Wall Street are finding the health insurance industry a bad risk, I have to ask how much longer the Beltway crowd is going to keep looking the other way.

According to this CJR report, regarding a series of studies from Health Care Week and other industry groups, the health care industry, drug manufacturers and other related industry groups are doing everything they can to insure there are no changes to their current profit margins:
The insurance companies, of course, think the system is just fine, and they spent heavily to keep the status quo. Health Plan Week, an insurance industry trade pub, took a hard look, revealing that overall health insurance payments to lobbyists soared last year and are likely to grow again in the next couple of years as health reform becomes the biggest issue. A large percentage of that money, the magazine found, was focused on the Medicare Advantage issue, which was front and center last year. Analyzing disclosure forms from the Senate’s public records office, Health Plan Week found that fifteen health plans paid lobbyists more than $22 million in 2007, up from $18 million in 2006, a hefty chunk of change by any measure. WellCare Health Plans, a big seller of Medicare Advantage products that has gotten in trouble with regulators for its questionable sales practices, quadrupled its spending to $320,000 and paid half of that amount to the Washington law firm to plead its case on Medicare issues. Health Net and Tufts Health Plan more than doubled their spending, while insurance biggies like CIGNA and UnitedHealth Group substantially increased their lobbying budgets. Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans spent nearly $10 million....
A press release just issued by the Center for Responsive Politics further reinforces the money and health care story. Its message: Special interests spent $17 million for every day Congress was in session, and the drug industry spent most of all, paying lobbyists 25 percent more than they did last year. Did Harry Reid forget to mention them? Drug companies spent some $227 million on lobbying activities. The insurance industry was right behind with $138 million, and not far down was the hospital and nursing home industry, which spent some $91 million. When the Center pulled apart spending by organization, Pharma, the American Medical Association, and the American Hospital Association ranked three, four, and five on its list of top spenders. It’s too bad that the Center’s latest numbers haven’t gotten more press. For they, too show, the rocky path ahead for health reform.
It’s easy for reporters and editors to dismiss yet another press release about gobs of money thrown at politicians and lobbyists. We’ve seen that before, they say; what else is new? And it’s easy to cop out and blame readers for stumbling over the big numbers anyway. But the big numbers tell a big story. It’s crucial to remind the public of the intersection of money, lobbyists, Congress, and the presidential candidates. “It’s a constitutional right to petition your government, but the average citizen is not doing this petitioning,” says Massie Ritsch, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics. “The average person’s lobbyist is the elected official sent to Washington.” But, he adds, “Those officials are listening to the outsiders who are doing the petitioning.” The Constitution may guarantee lobbying, but it doesn’t say Congress has to listen to big money. The press needs to shine a light on just who is listening to whom.
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