CAMPAIGN FINANCE: Health Care Industry Doubles Giving
Health insurers and HMOs have "nearly doubled" the amount of money they have given to politicians this year compared to the last midterm election cycle. The Los Angeles Times reports that the industry is "pouring money into key congressional campaigns around the country in hopes of helping elect a Congress that will kill new efforts to slap stricter regulations on them." According to figures compiled by the Times and the Center for Responsive Politics, the health care industry contributed $1.2 million to campaigns in 1994, whereas contributions for this election "now total $2.1 million." While the "increase is part of a larger surge in business contributions which have grown by about 50% from 1994 levels," the Times reports that "the managed care giving is particularly striking." HMOs have not traditionally been big political givers, but this year HMO reform has become a "hot political issue."
The Gift That Keeps On Giving
The Times reports that Republicans are largely reaping the benefits of the industry's growing generosity. Overall, business interests have donated $460 million so far this year, with GOP candidates receiving $3 for every $2 given to Democratic candidates. One HMO lobbyist explained the industry's GOP leanings: "They were market-oriented. They knew us. We thought they would be there for us." The Times reports that the GOP said it would be willing to help deflate the patients' rights drive as long as the party received donations. One managed care lobbyist said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's (R-MS) office told her, "Get off your butts. Get off your wallets." In response, the industry "got religion fast," according to the Times. Sharon Cohen, senior vice president for federal affairs at the Health Insurance Association of America, said, "There's a growing recognition that we have to be involved, not just in lobbying and educating members of Congress, but in the political scene in Washington." Brenda Becker, chief fundraiser for the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Association of America, said, "We are giving more to Republicans because they've been carrying our water on a lot of issues and they are also in the majority."
The health care industry is not just contributing to politicians' campaigns, the Times reports. The American Association of Health Plans and the Health Benefits Coalition have "paid for radio and television ads throughout the year to defeat proposals to rein in the industry and to promote lawmakers who opposed Democratic patient protection proposals." One lawmaker "who made her name by vigorously defending" the industry, Rep. Anne Northup (R-KY), has seen about 10% of her "$500,000 war chest" come from the industry. In addition, the Health Benefits Coalition "produced its own issue ads to promote one candidate or blast another in particularly tight congressional races." The Times reports that the costs of these ads "do not count as campaign contributions because the ads are, at least in principle, orchestrated independently of the candidate's own campaign." One HBC lobbyist said, "We don't coordinate our giving to candidates, but when we're on a conference call or at meetings and somebody says so-and-so is in trouble, we all know what to do." Such is the case in North Carolina's senate race, the Times reports. For incumbent Lauch Faircloth (R-NC), who "faces a tough challenge from Democrat John Edwards, the AAHP "ran television ads warning that trial lawyers would win and patients would lose if Congress" passed a law allowing consumers to sue their HMOs (Rubin, 10/30).