Lobbyists Continue Pressing Their Cases

Pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, advocacy groups and others with a stake in health reform continue to lobby in hopes of winning concessions in the overhaul, or at least surviving the changes unscathed. "One of the groups key to working any deal is the pharmaceutical industry, which has been quite active behind the scenes," National Public Radio reports. NPR interviewed former congressman Billy Tauzin, who is president of PhRMA, the drug industry's lobbying group. Tauzin said he couldn't predict whether health reform, which his group supports, would make the industry wealthier, but added, "we'll do okay" (7/30).

Meanwhile, one Texas hospital has aggressively pursued a lobbying and fundraising campaign to encourage lawmakers to "soften measures that could choke its rapid growth," the New York Times reports. The hospital, Doctors Hospitals at Renaissance, collected nearly $500,000 for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in March, continuing a years-long campaign to convince members of Congress to shed measures such as one introduced by Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., that would limit physician ownership to 40 percent of a given hospital. The hospital in Edinburg, Texas, is doctor owned and was "featured unflatteringly in a June article in [t]he New Yorker about geographic disparities in health care spending" (Sack and Herszenhorn, 7/29).

Also, the AFL-CIO, a federation that represents many U.S. trade unions, is seeking to slow momentum in Congress on "a proposal to tax insurance companies that offer the most expensive plans," The Hill reports. The labor lobby successfully opposed a similar tax idea that would levy the penalty on workers or employers with high-cost plans, it remains unclear whether the tax on insurers would amount to the same as the companies pass on the expense to consumers. Many unions won top-notch health benefits in labor negotiations (Young, 7/29).

Both labor and "low-income advocates" have complaints about a "free-rider" provision under consideration by a Senate committee, saying it could incent employers to give hiring preference to workers with coverage from a family member, Kaiser Health News reports. The provision would require employers to pay for part of low-income worker's health insurance subsidies if the company declines to offer insurance, a mandate that is more palatable to businesses than a previous discussed requirement that they provide insurance to all workers. "We are very wary of it," an AFL-CIO spokesman said.

"Perhaps unsurprisingly, expenditure on health care and energy lobbying has grown at a faster rate than spending on other topics over the last ten years," Newsweek's blog, the Gaggle, reports. Between January and June of this year, health care lobbying has totaled more than $250 million, or more than four times the defense industry's lobbying expenses (Connolly, 7/29).

In separate lobbying news, Intermountain Healthcare, a Salt Lake City, Utah-based hospital and health system, delivered "an ultimatum to its lobbying corps: Kick tobacco or else," the Salt Lake Tribune reports. The group told its Washington representatives that it would fire them unless they end existing contracts with tobacco companies or agree not to work for them (Gehrke, 7/29).

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