KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Companies Shed More Light On Health Bill Lobbying

Several news outlets report on the lobbying efforts of interest groups, including drug makers, big business and insurers.

USA Today: "Sweeping ethics rules passed by Congress in 2007 require corporate interests that lobby Washington to reveal more information than ever, such as how much they donate to politicians' favorite charities. Yet companies don't have to detail how much money they give to powerful trade associations, nor does federal law require trade groups to disclose the amount they receive from each member for political activity."

Merck's political action committee, for example, "donated more than $572,000 to federal candidates in the 2008 election and racked up $4.6 million in expenses to lobby Congress and the executive branch last year, federal records show. What federal records don't show is that Merck also spent millions on payments to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and several others that are lobbying intensely on a massive bill to revamp the nation's health care system. In all, Merck spent $6.8 million in 2008 to help underwrite the political activity of eight associations and trade groups, according to the company's website." But "Merck, which started disclosing association dues in 2008, is one of a handful of companies shedding more light on their political activity under pacts with the non-profit Center for Political Accountability" (Schouten, 12/13).

NPR: "The health care debate is not only playing out in the grand halls and backrooms of Washington, it's playing out in ads, as well. With the 2010 elections coming into view, the ads are starting to take on a sharp partisan edge… [M]any of the health care messages seem to be shifting away from the substance of the bill and toward the bill as a partisan issue" (Overby, 12/11).

American Medical News: "North Carolina's BlueCross BlueShield-affiliated plan is the latest health insurer encountering a backlash for its lobbying efforts to thwart elements of health system reform. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina spokesman Lew Borman said the company is lobbying against a government-run health plan because it believes current proposals would result in increased premiums for Blue Cross customers. … In October, the company sent mailers to registered voters urging them to contact U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan (D, N.C.), then followed up with prerecorded calls to those same voters, Borman said" (Berry, 12/14).

Meanwhile, Bloomberg interviewed chief executive officers of more than a dozen U.S. companies, who said that the health reform legislation would not provide relief to businesses. "Private companies, providers of benefits to 132 million Americans, will see little savings from legislation under debate in Congress, CEOs at United Parcel Service Inc., Safeway Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. said in interviews over the past two weeks. The measures are more likely to add expenses, through taxes and fees on employers who don't offer affordable coverage, said Ellen Kullman, chief of Wilmington, Delaware-based DuPont Co., the world's third-largest chemical maker" (Nussbaum, 12/14).

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