Posts Tagged ‘Capitol Hill’

Healthcare Lobbyists Busy on Capitol Hill

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Even though the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the law of the land, the healthcare lobby is alive and well. Various federal agencies are working on full implementation of the law in 2014.  And with legislative tweaks and efforts to defund the law underway, lobbying on healthcare is ongoing.  So far, more than 180 groups have registered to continue shaping the law, according to the Sunlight Foundation.

Ever since President Barack Obama began the long journey to reform, healthcare lobbyists went into high gear.  During 2009 and 2010, $1.06 billion was spent on lobbying; more than $500 million was spent lobbying the legislation in each year, according to a report from the Center for Responsive Politics. Lobbyists for 1,251 organizations worked on healthcare reform in 2009 and 2010, according to the Sunlight Foundation.  Individual lobbyists who reported working on health related legislation totaled 3,154 in 2010, with Big Pharma topping the list.  The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America spent $22 million and employs 52 lobbyists.  Political donors with ties to the healthcare sector raised $137 million for federal candidates in the 2010 elections.  That is $30 million less than that sector raised during the 2008 presidential race.

Barbara Kennelley, a former Congresswoman and current President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, notes that lobbyists tried to raise an alarm among senior citizens about how the law might impact Medicare. “When the Affordable Care Act became law last March, critics predicted doom for the seniors and people with disabilities who rely on Medicare.  They said that coverage would disappear, benefits would be cut, and death panels were on their way – none of which was true.  But these lies scared many seniors about the law before it was explained to them.  Now, one year later, as the implementation of the law moves forward, Medicare is still sound – it’s stronger than it was before the law was passed – and millions of people with Medicare are benefitting from the law.”

Medicare has cracked down hard on waste, fraud, and abuse.  The Obama administration last year recovered $4 billion in Medicare fraud.  Additionally, the Affordable Care Act provides tools to crack down even further, specifically saying that Medicare’s guaranteed benefits – hospital care, doctors’ services, home health services, drug coverage, etc. – are protected.  “Benefits are as good as ever – better, in fact, Kennelly said.  “Prescription drugs are more affordable.  This year the nearly four million beneficiaries who fall into the prescription drug ‘doughnut hole’ will receive discounts on their drugs.  These discounts will increase over the next few years until the doughnut hole is closed.”

It’s now 2011 and the lobbying is still going full steam ahead. So far this year, more than 180 firms have registered to lobby for new clients on healthcare issues, 16 of which disclosed the Affordable Care Act as a specific lobbying interest, according to Sunlight’s Lobbying Registration Tracker.

The Obama administration is frustrated that the battle against healthcare reform hasn’t ended. “There still is a lot of intentional misinformation by opponents that continues to be repeated,” said Kathleen Sebelius, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary.  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack agrees with Sebelius and believes that perceptions of the law are shifting as the benefits are implemented.  Vilsack noted that as farmers and small businesses file their 2010 tax returns, they are seeing a tax credit for small businesses of up to 35 percent for premiums paid on health insurance for employees.  “I think the acceptance of this and the awareness of this is going to grow substantially,” Vilsack said.

Could Olympia Snowe Be the Key Healthcare Reform?

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

olympia_snowe2The name Olympia Snowe (R-ME) has been prominent in the debate on healthcare reform –  and for good reason.  Snowe is the lone Republican member of the Senate Finance Committee who is still talking with Democrats to shape the ultimate bill.  This willingness to engage the opposition party gives Snowe significant leverage because she may provide the 60th vote that Democrats need to prevent a Republican filibuster.  In return, Snowe is likely to get what she wants in healthcare reform legislation — affordability.

Snowe’s perspective may be due to the fact that she represents a relatively poor state whose health insurance market is dominated by a single large firm that charges some of the country’s highest premiums.  Maine insurance costs are rising at nearly four times the rate of wages, hurting the small businesses that form the core of the state’s economy.

Even though Democrats are actively courting Snowe, her “yes” vote is not guaranteed.  She voted with Senate Finance Committee Republicans when they insisted that Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) submit his measure to the Congressional Budget Office to determine the bill’s price tag.  Additionally, Snowe was the sole member of Baucus’ bipartisan “Gang of Six” who complained that the federal subsidies included in the bill to help low- and middle-income people buy insurance were too small.  Baucus’ response was to increase the size of the subsidies.

Snowe’s most provocative input to the healthcare debate is her proposal for a trigger that would set in motion a Medicare-like, government-run public option to provide affordable coverage if private insurers don’t step up to the plate.  “It would be a safety net, a fallback mechanism,” Snowe says.  She points out that a similar idea was effective to stimulate competition in the Medicare prescription-drug program.

Congress and its Dueling Healthcare Plans

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

There are so many healthcare reform trial balloons being launched in Washington, D.C., that it’s difficult to keep up with who wants what.  Following is a rundown of what the current proposals say.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s proposal would require most people to have qualifying healthcare coverage, though with some exceptions.  People who do not participate face a tax penalty of at least 50 percent of the average yearly premium cost of the basic plan.  Employers would have to offer healthcare coverage and pay a minimum of 60 percent of the premium, or $750 for every full-time employee.  Individual and small business coverage would be managed through state-based “gateways” that provide consumers with information to help them decide on the right plan.  This is likely to cost $1 trillion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

The House Tri-Committee bill would require individuals to carry “acceptable health coverage”. People who opt out would pay a penalty of 2.5 percent of their modified adjusted gross income to the cost of the average national premium for individual or family coverage.  Employers must offer healthcare coverage and pay a minimum of 72.5 percent for single coverage and 65 percent for family coverage into the cheapest qualifying plan.  Alternatively, employers would pay eight percent of payroll into a health insurance trust fund.  The CBO estimates that this plan will cost $1 trillion over 10 years.  Medicare and Medicaid savings would pay for this, with the remainder covered by a surcharge on high-income individuals and families.

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Several other proposals are under consideration.  The Senate Finance committee is debating allowing people aged 55 – 64 to buy in to Medicare, as well as taxing insurance companies to fund the healthcare plan.  Conservative Democrats on the Energy and Commerce committee want the government to pay rural healthcare providers at a higher rate to assure better access to quality care.

With no vote expected prior to Congress’ annual August recess, we may see even more evolution in the proposals currently on the table.