The Lobbying Power of the Groups at the Presidential Health Care Pow-Wow


Today, President Obama held a public event with a number of leading health industry trade associations that have previously been reticent towards efforts to reform health care. The organizations included the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA), America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the American Medical Association (AMA), the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed) and the American Hospital Association (AHA). The public event included a promise by these industry groups, among others, to reduce health care costs by $2 trillion. It also served as a symbolic event, potentially showing the shrinking rift in between the two sides in the health reform debate. President Obama wants these organizations to temper their fire when the health reform debate begins in full, as they wield a mighty hand in the Washington lobbying game.

1st Quarter Lobbying
PhRMA $6,910,000
American Medical Assn $4,355,000
American Hospital Assn $4,237,176
America’s Health Insurance Plans $2,030,000
Advanced Medical Technology Assn $364,638

In their first quarter reporting for 2009, these five trade associations have reported¬† nearly $18 million in lobbying expenditures. Their expertise in reaching out to Congress is also nearly unparalleled. The five trade groups employ in their inside lobby shops at least 20 former government employees, many of whom are former congressional staffers. The head of PhRMA’s lobby shop is former congressman Billy Tauzin, notorious for negotiating his current job as he was writing Medicare prescription drug benefit while in Congress. (This does not take into account the outside lobbying firms hired by these groups.)

The health care sector, on the whole, is leading the pack in lobbying expenditures this year. After three months of 2009, the sector has reported $127 million in lobbying expenditures. That is on pace to break the record $487 million spent by the sector on lobbying in 2008 and the congressional debate has yet to be fully engaged. The sector is the only other private sector that competes with the financial sector in lobbying spending. From 1997-2008, the health care sector has spent $3.4 billion on lobbying officials in Washington — only slightly less than the financial sector ($3.6 billion). There are varying views in the health care reform community on whether this public event will help President Obama’s reform effort or if it will empower the industry groups to be able to squash the pieces of reform they deem unacceptable. Jonathan Cohn, Marc Ambinder and Paul Krugman believe that this is a net benefit for reform advocates. Cohn writes, “[E]very day that these groups are saying positive things about reform in public is day they’re not saying nasty things about reform in public.” The American Prospect’s Ezra Klein, on the other hand, takes a more cautious approach, stating, “The fact that the White House is making a big deal of their support means it would be a big deal if they lost it.”

But Klein also notes that the real fight won’t occur until an actual bill is dropped, which will happen in June. When the next lobbying disclosure reports come out on July 20th, we’ll be able to see how much these groups are engaged in the debate. These groups have the ability to spend massive amounts of money and that is the only metric we will have to measure their lobbying campaign when the next round of disclosures are released.

We won’t, however, be able to see who in Congress, or the administration, they are contacting and for what goals they are aiming. Without disclosure of contacts, it may take some time for the President and supporters and opponents of reform to see whether today’s event was just a high-level photo-op, or if it actually paid off in one-way or the other.