Industry Groups Increase Lobbying As Details Of Health Plan Emerge

Insurers, business owners, and doctors -- three principal interest groups in health reform -- are stepping up their opposition and lobbying efforts as details of the health plans emerge.

Business groups are "deeply displeased" with the legislation circulated by Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., which includes possible provisions for a government-sponsored insurance plan and "requirements for employers to provide health care to their employees or pay a fine," the AP reports. Today, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will meet with business groups "to plot strategy as alarm grows over the direction of Democratic health care overhaul proposals." Randy Johnson, a chamber vice president, told the AP "that business groups have been largely restrained to date about voicing opposition, but it might be time for that to change. The purpose of the meeting is to determine a strategy, possibly including an advertising campaign, he said." Business groups are considered a key player in a health care overhaul after their opposition helped kill reform during the Clinton Administration.

Businesses are particularly concerned about an employer mandate, because "even though Democrats are looking at exempting small businesses, large businesses fear that their coverage packages could be deemed inadequate and they'd have to purchase additional coverage." Insurance businesses oppose the public option, which they "fear would drive them out of business." The chamber "could prove a formidable opponent to Democratic hopes for a health care overhaul, if it decides to go on the attack against Democratic plans. Johnson indicated that if the groups aren't yet ready to pull the trigger, they're getting close" (Werner, 6/11).

Politico adds that Johnson's testimony before the HELP Committee "suggests the group does not find much, if any, common ground with the lead Democratic negotiators. Johnson also "said the process has been less open and transparent than during the Clinton effort in 1993-94, 'which involved more hearings, more time to consider legislation, and more public vetting of options than has been contemplated here'" (Brown, 6/11).

On Monday, President Obama will speak about health care at the annual meeting of the American Medical Association, "the nation's largest, most visible group of doctors," and another concerned interest group, AP reports. While "AMA's leaders agree that the nation's health system is sick, it has "long opposed government intrusion into health care and believes reform can be achieved by revamping private health insurance plans." In particular, the group "opposed any public plan that forces physicians to participate, expands the fiscally challenged Medicare program or pays Medicare rates," AMA president Dr. Nancy Nielsen said in a written statement. She added that the group "is willing to consider other variations of a public plan that are currently under discussion in Congress" (Tanner, 6/11).

On the insurance industry front, the Wall Street Journal reports that "the growing debate over Democrats' push for a government-run health plan to compete with private insurers is drowning out a number of other significant details that could have big implications for health insurers and consumers alike." Other areas of concern include "how much leeway private insurers would have to design and sell plans inside and outside a planned new health-insurance 'exchange,' and how individuals could apply subsidies toward purchasing insurance." Insurers have been "working in marathon meetings on Capitol Hill to help shape the answers to those questions," and have made it a "strategic point to collaborate on health reform by making such upfront concessions as agreeing to take all applicants regardless of their help." But insurers are "less likely to give ground" on other issues. Among their "biggest concerns" are possible "restrictions on the kinds of plans they would be able to sell outside the new exchange" and possible tax credits for consumers who purchase plans within the exchange (Fuhrmans, 6/12)."

CQ adds that health care lobbyists are reporting "what some characterized as warnings from Democratic staffers against undermining overhaul legislation" by meeting with Republicans. One lobbyist said that while "he didn't feel threatened," there was "a general message that working with Republicans would be a 'hostile act." Democratic leaders have "denied discouraging participation" in talks with Republican lawmakers (Jansen and Vadala, 6/11).

A USA Today review of industry disclosure reports found that "The largest medical insurers and drug companies spent 41% more on lobbying this year as Congress began debate on an overhaul of health care (Fritze, 6/12).

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