Major Insurers Funded Chamber Of Commerce Ads Attacking Health Bills
"Just as dealings with the Obama administration and congressional Democrats soured last summer, six of the nation's biggest health insurers began quietly pumping big money into third-party television ads aimed at killing or significantly modifying the major health reform bills moving through Congress," The National Journal reports. "That money, between $10 million and $20 million, came from Aetna, Cigna, Humana, Kaiser Foundation Health Plans, UnitedHealth Group and Wellpoint, according to two health care lobbyists familiar with the transactions. The companies are all members of the powerful trade group America's Health Insurance Plans. The funds were solicited by AHIP and funneled to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to help underwrite tens of millions of dollars of television ads by two business coalitions set up and subsidized by the chamber. Each insurer kicked in at least $1 million and some gave multimillion-dollar donations" (Stone, 1/12).
The New York Times: AHIP "said in a statement that the insurers 'readily' gave money to the chamber because the industry and the chamber shared the belief that health care legislation would hurt the nation's employers. 'We share the very serious concerns employers have raised about provisions that will increase health care costs, including new premium taxes that will hit small businesses hard,' Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for the trade association, said in an e-mail message. 'So when the employer community - our customers - asked us to contribute to their campaign, we readily agreed,' he said" (Seelye, 1/12).
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports that "The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will be actively involved in midterm House and Senate races and even in upcoming judiciary picks, the group's president said Tuesday. ... A clash between the White House and the Chamber has been brewing for several months as the two sides have fought over the shape of health-care reform. The Chamber was not invited to President Obama's December jobs summit, a snub widely noticed in the business community."
After his annual "State of American Business" address, Chamber president and chief executive Thomas J. Donohue "repeatedly made the point" that "[t]he Chamber does not get involved in presidential politics. Congressional races, however, are another matter. The GOP is hoping to pick off wobbly Democrats in the midterm elections this year by hammering them on the nation's 10 percent unemployment rate, support for higher taxes on businesses and rising debt, and the Chamber will sponsor efforts aimed at 'voter education,' Donohue said" (Ahrens, 1/13).
Kaiser Health News: "Despite unleashing a new round of TV spots last week that blasts congressional Democrats' health overhaul, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce acknowledged at a media briefing Tuesday that the fight is just about over. R. Bruce Josten, the chamber's executive vice president of government affairs, predicted that House and Senate negotiators would finish their work and get a final bill to President Barack Obama by mid-to-late February" (Galewitz, 1/12).
Roll Call adds that interests and advocacy groups that have been fighting the health care legislation are "increasingly assuming that Congress will approve an overhaul and are shifting their focus to ensure that their top priorities are protected in the final bill. [N]ow that the legislation has passed both the House and Senate - and Democratic leaders are huddling to hammer out a final version - lobbyists are scurrying to figure out what will be in the fine print of the ultimate product and how they can make implementation of the bill more palatable for their clients" (Roth, 1/13).