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K Street Files: Message Triage

Karen Ignagni, the health insurance industry’s top lobbyist, said Tuesday that Democrats’ efforts to demonize her industry are counterproductive and won’t help reform the nation’s health care system.

[IMGCAP(1)]The president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans made clear that her member companies will use the August recess to “set the record straight about our community’s contribution to the reform effort.—

“Attacking our community will not help get anyone covered,— Ignagni said during a conference call with reporters. “For a country that is trying to accomplish what it has failed to do for a century — pass health care reform — the same old Washington politics of find an enemy and go to war’ is a major step backward, not a step forward. Indeed, this is the playbook of consultants, not consensus.—

Ignagni said the insurers will continue to run television ads that support bipartisan reform efforts, and she reiterated her industry’s opposition to a public insurance option. Members of Congress also should expect to hear from rank-and-file health insurance workers during the recess.

“They are ordinary Americans from all walks of life,— she said of health plan employees. “They do not deserve to be demonized or vilified as part of a campaign to distract attention away from the sinking support for a government-run program.—

She added that health plans support comprehensive health care reform and have put forth their own proposals for reforming the industry.

“Health plans were the first of the stakeholders to come to the table with a comprehensive proposal to reform our own sector,— she said.

AHIP has said its proposal would guarantee coverage for all Americans, regardless of pre-existing conditions. But the industry says its plan will only work if all individuals are legally mandated to have coverage.

A government-run plan, she said, would offer artificially low premiums. “This would force employers to drop their coverage, creating a death spiral for private insurance and financial catastrophe for many hospitals and doctors,— she said.

Done Deal. The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association has inked a deal with a new head of the Wall Street group’s Washington, D.C., office. The job officially is going to former Rep. Ken Bentsen (D-Texas), who is president of the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association.

Bentsen will oversee SIFMA’s legal work, governmental and legislative affairs and advocacy efforts, and he will report to SIFMA President and CEO Timothy Ryan.

Sources close to SIFMA said Bentsen is already viewed as a successor-in-waiting to Ryan.

ELFA spokeswoman Diane Zyats said Bentsen has stepped up her group’s visibility and footprint in the nation’s capital. “We at ELFA have a great deal of respect for Ken Bentsen,— she said. “It’s a huge loss for ELFA, and a huge gain for SIFMA.—

She said ELFA will conduct a search for Bentsen’s replacement.

Debt Settlers Come to Town. Under fire over allegations that claims by its member companies to lower consumers’ debt are not true, the United States Organization for Bankruptcy Alternatives has hired its first federal lobbyist.

Team Builders’ Seth Brunelli and Beth Clay registered to lobby on behalf of USOBA. The firm is focusing on the “fair regulation and consumers in debt negotiation— and “debt settlement,— according to the Senate lobbying report.

Debt settlement firms are facing tough scrutiny by several state officials, including New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. Several House lawmakers have also said they support tighter federal regulations.

Formed in 2004, USOBA has had state-level lobbyists for years. But the recent push in Congress and at the Federal Trade Commission to make rules that would amend telemarketing sales calls, among other things, has forced the group to get active inside the Beltway, according to USOBA Executive Director Jenna Keehnen.

“Essentially, as it’s written, [the FTC rulemaking] would put the entire industry out of business,— Keehnen said.

Keehnen said the association, which is composed of more than 180 companies, is lobbying to “put something out there that makes sense instead of taking away an option for debt relief when consumers need it most.—

USOBA’s move to bring on some K Street muscle comes a few months after the Association of Settlement Companies brought on its own hired guns, Patton Boggs.

Mellon Hires Duberstein. It didn’t take long for former Goldman Sachs associates Marti Thomas and Anne Costello to find a way to work together.

Thomas, who left Goldman earlier this year for the Duberstein Group, recently signed on to lobby — along with several of her Duberstein colleagues — on behalf of Bank of New York Mellon Corp. Costello heads up the bank’s lobbying operation.

The bank, which spent nearly $500,000 on lobbying during the first half of 2009, also recently brought on Capitol Tax Partners.

Duberstein also lobbies for Goldman.

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