Obamacare Repeal Designers See No Backlash From Health Industry Groups

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By Lillianna Byington and Alex Ruoff

In early March, one day before two key House panels would review an early version of Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, the American Hospital Association sent a letter to lawmakers outlining the group’s concern with the repeal proposal.

The AHA was among the first health industry groups to officially come out against the bill, eventually joined by a chorus from the hospital industry and doctors’ groups. The country’s largest doctors’ association, the American Medical Association, also said that same day it wouldn’t support the legislation, the American Health Care Act.

However, the AHA made two $5,000 donations to the re-election campaign of a chief architect of the House repeal bill, Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), chairman of the Ways and Means health subcommittee, in the days before that hearing, according to Federal Election Commission filings. The following week the AMA gave $2,500 to the head of the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas).

While the groups were publicly opposing Republicans’ repeal legislation, they were contributing to the campaign funds of members of Congress who played key roles in creating it.

The early campaign data show health associations, which give millions of dollars annually, aren’t abandoning key Republicans for supporting the AHCA. There are a host of health issues pressing on Capitol Hill this year, and these groups want a seat at the table in designing legislation, representatives of these industry groups and researchers told Bloomberg recently.

“A lot of times people think money is there to change votes, it’s really not there to change votes,” Ray La Raja, a political science professor who studies campaign finance at the University of Massachusetts, told Bloomberg BNA June 2. “Most of the time it is to support the people that agree with you so you are not changing their vote and it is also given to maintain access with people who may or may not agree with you.”

Groups That Keep On Giving

Health services associations like the AHA and the AMA, drugmakers, and insurers are among the most generous contributors to congressional campaigns. Most gave more to Republicans last campaign cycle, because the GOP held majorities in both chambers of Congress and therefore controlled key committee roles.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists and its employees contributed the most of any health services industry group during the 2015-2016 campaign cycle, giving out $1.8 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics. The AHA and the AMA each gave out $1.7 million, while Blue Cross Blue Shield Association’s political action committee gave out $1.69 million.

Insurer UnitedHealth Group and drugmaker Pfizer each gave out more than $2 million during the last campaign cycle, largely to congressional candidates.

Many key players in developing the AHCA, such as Brady and Tiberi, received far more in the first few months of 2017 from health industry groups than they did during the same time period in 2015, the start of the prior Congress, according to FEC data analyzed by Bloomberg BNA.

Tiberi’s total in contributions from the nine most generous health groups and companies in 2017 is nearly 10 times what he received during the same time period in 2015. He has received $36,500 so far from these nine groups, more than half of the $63,900 he received during the entire 2015-2016 campaign cycle.

Brady has received $19,500 from the nine groups during the first four months of 2017. During the last election cycle he took in $51,750 total from them.

Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), head of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Michael Burgess (R-Texas), head of Energy and Commerce health subcommittee, saw more modest bumps in support.

Walden has received $10,000 so far, just above the $7,500 he received during the same time period in 2015. Burgess received $7,000 so far, just above the $5,500 he received during the same time period in 2015.

Democrats on these committees, meanwhile, haven’t seen the same increase in contributions. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, received $8,000 so far this year, down from $8,500 during the same period in 2015. Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, received $6,000 so far this year, compared with $1,000 in 2015.

Defending Contributions

Industry groups told Bloomberg BNA they make their decisions about which lawmakers and congressional candidates to support based on their positions on a wide range of issues, not individual bills.

It’s difficult to draw conclusions about how repeal efforts might affect health groups’ campaign contributions through the next two years. Large contributions are typically made later in the year, Viveca Novak, who is the editorial and communications director at the Center for Responsive Politics, told Bloomberg BNA.

Marie Watteau, a spokeswoman for the AHA, told Bloomberg BNA in a statement her group gives to candidates “who are supportive of the issues important to hospitals and health systems.”

A spokeswoman for the American Society of Anesthesiologists points out her group never opposed the AHCA.

“ASA makes decisions to support candidates based upon their understanding of our issues and their ties to the physician and anesthesiology community,” Theresa Hill, director of public relations for the ASA, told Bloomberg BNA.

To contact the reporters on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at lbyington@bna.com; Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Brian Broderick at bbroderick@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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