Lobbyists Ready Endgame Strategy

Posted March 22, 2010 at 6:04pm

Industry groups, labor unions and other stakeholders in health care reform offered up their parting shots on Monday, airing lingering grievances with the historic legislation or praising a bill that, after more than a year of tussling, now awaits President Barack Obama’s signature.

The union-backed coalition Health Care for America Now plunked down $1 million Monday for a week’s worth of television advertising in Democratic House districts to thank “individual members of Congress for stopping health insurance companies from killing reform,” according to a statement by the coalition.

The ads, which start Tuesday, will air in the districts of Democratic Reps. Alan Mollohan (W.Va.), Allen Boyd (Fla.), Christopher Carney (Pa.), Debbie Halvorson (Ill.) and 10 other vulnerable lawmakers who cast “yea” health care votes on Sunday night.

“To influence Members of Congress, the insurance companies hired 2,049 lobbyists to try and get their way,” a narrator says in the televised spots. “And $86 million dollars was spent on misleading ads to try and kill reform. All because they want to keep jacking up premiums and denying us coverage … but the insurance companies didn’t win.”

Lobbyists for unions also pledged Monday not to meddle with House-passed revenue fixes that are now before the Senate in a budget reconciliation bill. Officials said organized labor is comfortable with proposed tweaks on high-cost, or “Cadillac,” insurance plans that would push the effective date of some taxes nearly into the next decade.

“Clearly, it’s a major step in the right direction,” said Chuck Loveless, a lobbyist for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “We are certainly supporting the reconciliation bill and will be lobbying very hard to try and keep this intact during the next couple of days.”

Bill Samuel, legislative director for the AFL-CIO, likewise said his federation will not press Senators to make changes to the reconciliation bill. Any changes to that could disrupt a delicate, if not binding, agreement that helped get the support of liberal and conservative House Democrats.

“We’re very enthusiastic about what’s being done this week, and it’s really a tremendous first step as far as we’re concerned,” Samuel said. “We’ll find over the next two years further ways to improve the bill, but for now, we’re more than satisfied.

“Over the long term, there are things we’ll all want to revisit in the bill over the next decade,” Samuel continued. “But certainly nothing that we want the Senate to do. … We’re anxious to get this bill to the White House and signed into law.”

The Advanced Medical Technology Association, which represents device-makers such as Johnson & Johnson, also confirmed Monday that its membership supports the reconciliation bill now before the Senate.

Insurance companies are also not planning to fight Senate passage of the reconciliation measure. A spokesman for the industry’s top trade group, American’s Health Insurance Plans, called the proposed revenue fixes “a mixed bag.”

“On a positive note, the reconciliation bill delays the premium tax to 2014 so that individuals and small businesses don’t see a huge cost increase years before the benefits of the legislation kick in,” AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach said. “At the same time, the legislation dramatically increases the cuts to Medicare Advantage that will put at risk the entire program.”

Some downtown groups are ramping up their opposition to the package. U.S. Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Blair Latoff said Monday that the business group opposes revenue proposals to the health care bill passed by the House on Sunday night. She said the fixes to the Cadillac tax and employer mandates in the reconciliation package are more financially onerous than in the Senate’s original health care reform bill.

Conservative groups also are continuing their attempts to scuttle the contentious legislation this week, arguing for amendments involving tort reform, immigration, abortion rights and other political wedge issues.

American Association for Justice lobbyist Linda Lipsen said she wouldn’t be surprised if there was an attempt to include a medical malpractice amendment to the reconciliation bill by those trying to derail the entire package.

“There’s a whole host of issues that could be raised with the intent of trying to derail the bill,” Lipsen said. “This is not something we would be surprised about.”

But with so much on the line for Democratic leadership, a health care lobbyist predicted privately that there will be few opportunities for substantial changes to see the light of day, especially this late in the game.

“At this point it’s about shepherding the bill through,” the lobbyist said. “Let’s wrap it up and get it behind us.”

Anna Palmer and Bennett Roth contributed to this report.