Democratic Health Care Holdouts’ Ties to the Health Insurance Industry


The New York Times reports that there are three Democratic senators who are viewed as holdouts on a procedural vote to go forward with debate on the final Senate health care reform bill. The senators are most conservative members of the Democratic caucus and represent states that largely voted for Republicans in both the 2004 and 2008 presidential races. They also are all top recipients of campaign contributions from the health insurance industry and have former staffers working for the industry.

From 2005 to 2009, Sen. Blanche Lincoln has received $139,149 from the health insurers and HMOs. The majority of that money comes from Blue Cross Blue Shield, the health insurance provider that holds a 75 percent market share in the senator’s home state of Arkansas. Blue Cross Blue Shield has contributed over $80,ooo to Sen. Lincoln since the 2006 election cycle.

Elizabeth Barnett, Sen. Lincoln’s former health advisor, left the senator’s office in 2007 to work as Blue Cross Blue Shield’s top Democratic lobbyist. Earlier this year, Barnett left Blue Cross to work for Avenue Solutions, where she retains Blue Cross Blue Shield as a client. Avenue Solutions’ profile of Barnett notes that she “had primary responsibility for representing [Blue Cross Blue Shield] and its 39 member plans before the Senate Finance Committee, Senate Democratic Leadership, and other key Senate committees and offices.” Barnett also represents the two other major health insurers UnitedHealth Group and Aetna.

(You can see a visualization of Sen. Lincoln’s connections to health care companies through her former staffers turned lobbyists here. This was created for a previous post on Sen. Lincoln.)

In 2005, Sen. Lincoln’s chief of staff Kelly Bingel left to work for Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti Inc. with a lobbying portfolio that includes over a dozen clients invested in health care reform. Bingel represents a who’s who of the health care industry including America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) and Pharmaceutical Researchers & Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). While AHIP previously refused to take sides in the health care debate, in the past few months the health insurers group has voiced a full-throated opposition to the public option and has taken on the administration and Congress over the overall bill. PhRMA, on the hand, received a sweetheart deal that was crafted by Sen. Max Baucus and the White House that won their support of the entire bill.

Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska is third Democratic holdout. Since the 2006 election cycle, Sen. Nelson has received $91,200 from health insurers and HMOs. Like Sen. Lincoln, the majority of that money comes from Blue Cross Blue Shield with $65,550 coming from the largest health insurance provider in the senator’s state.

Sen. Nelson’s former legislative director Amy Terjal left his office in 2007 to work as a lobbyist at Avenue Solutions, the same firm as Barnett. Terjal holds the same clients as Barnett. Three of the top health insurers in the nation — Blue Cross Blue Shield, UnitedHealth Group and Aetna — are clients of Terjal’s.

Another Democratic holdout, Louisiana’s Sen. Mary Landrieu received $104,548 from health insurers and HMOs since the 2006 election cycle. Sen. Landrieu’s long time chief of staff Jason Matthews (1996-2009) left her office this year to work as director of congressional affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber is a staunch opponent of health care reform recently commissioning a study to prove that the stated health care reforms being considered in Congress would have a negative economic impact.

Health insurers had remained on the sidelines of the health care reform debate until recently. In October, AHIP released a study that claimed to show the cost of health insurance plans rising in the years following the enactment of reform. Since then, the organization has begun running television commercials in at least 10 states threatening seniors that their benefits will be cut under the reforms under consideration in Washington.

Earlier today, Majority Leader Harry Reid held a closed door meeting with these three senators to assuage their concerns and court their vote on cloture for the health reform bill. Sen. Nelson released a statement that appears to show support for voting in favor of cloture on the bill, “Why would you stop senators from doing the job they’re elected to do — debate, consider amendments, and take action on an issue affecting every American?”

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  • A Government proposal for Change-Health Care Reform Act

    March 2010 may stand out as a monumental month for change with the Obama Administration-Americans can look forward to changes in the current health care system through the passing of the Health Care Reform Act. Though there are many details that need to be ironed out, there are many changes that have been established.

    There are two factors that will have the largest impact for Americans and America’s health brokers:
    1) The fact that as of 2014, it is required by law for employers to offer affordable health insurance plans to all employees.
    2) As of 2014, all Americans will be required to acquire health insurance.

    Employers-For businesses over 100 employees, there may not be many changes. The difference may be that part-time employees will be offered aid with a percentage of hours in relation to full-time employment. This will offer benefits to those who do not have that same opportunity currently as a part-time employee. With businesses under 100 employees, there will be opportunities for credits from the government to offer aid with those employees. A percentage will be paid, based on payroll that will pool to help those who acquire insurance through an exchange, where many of America’s health brokers will provide different affordable insurance plans for all individuals.
    What is the incentive for employers to offer insurance?
    Employers will face a fine of up to $2000 per employee for not providing insurance coverage to an individual employee. These fines can be diverted if the employer offers an alternative means to acquire insurance (which would require assistance through the exchange).
    Individuals-As of 2014, all Americans (with the exception of certain special case individuals) will be required to carry some form of insurance. Insurance will either be offered through employment or affordable insurance can be purchased through the exchange. America’s Health brokers will offer many new plans and opportunities to acquire cheap health insurance.
    What is the incentive for individuals to acquire insurance?
    According to the law, there will be a penalty assessed to all Americans who fail to acquire health insurance by the year 2014. The fine will be originally set at $695 per person, per year. This will hopefully be enough to encourage those who are not insured to carry some form of low cost health insurance.
    America’s health brokers will be seeing some changes that could affect them. Pre-existing conditions will no longer be applicable in denying insurance to children. As of 2014, America’s health brokers cannot deny health insurance to anyone due to a pre-existing condition. There are other factors that will change certain policies and conditions.
    The Health Care Reform Bill is an opportunity to reorganize the condition of care that is offered in the United States. There are many issues that riddle the care of many Americans, so hopefully this will provide solutions to some of the larger issues. One key aspect is the fact that all Americans will have the opportunity to have health care. This will be advantageous in many aspects: Prescription medications, preventative care, and treatment.

  • Health Care Reform Act-intent for Change

    For many years, America’s health brokers have been offering health insurance to individuals, small businesses and large businesses for decades, yet the enrollment statistics have revealed a steady decrease on an annual basis. The number of uninsured Americans is estimated to be as high as 30 million, and the Health Care Reform Act offers a solution. Not only will there be a higher enrollment number for America’s health brokers, but as of 2014, it will be required by law for every American to obtain health insurance. Every single American will be impacted by the New Health Reform Bill, making it one of the most important measures of the 21st Century.
    The main focus will be on businesses of 50 or more employees, in which they will be required to offer individual health plans, as well as family plans to all employees or face some stiff fines from the government. The amount comes to $2000 per uninsured employee, though there are exemptions to this fine. If you as an employer assist an individual with acquiring a personal health insurance plan through an open market called an exchange, then it would result in no fines. This only applies to an individual who makes a certain amount under the Federal Poverty Level, and the premiums are over 8% of his annual income.
    America’s health brokers can rest easy in the fact that there will be expanded coverage, though there may be more competition. With the rise in individuals who will have health insurance, there may not be as large of a risk as one may assume. Though the new bill will require America’s health brokers to enroll individuals with pre-existing conditions, there will also be a new population of young individuals who will be insured with fewer health problems.
    It is understood that larger companies already provide a group insurance plan (HMO, PPO) that covers all areas of needs for the population of employees. These policies will change very little, but there may be some changes in where the funding for the new health care plan will come. It is proposed that those making a certain amount of money, both individuals and couples, will be taxed at a higher percentage than others. This will provide money that can be used for the exchange and making sure that all individuals will be offered an affordable health plan.
    There are still a few years before the plan goes into full effect, though some of the measures will be enforced immediately. There will be plenty of time to sort out the details and iron out the difficulties. As for the plan, anyone who does not have health insurance as of January 1, 2014, will be penalized a certain amount of money, and this amount could become worse if health insurance is continuously neglected. There has never been a better opportunity for America’s health brokers in terms of acquiring a new customer base-a broader customer base. Also, there has never been a better time in history for individuals being provided with the resources for the necessary medical treatment. This is a very unique time, with history in the making. Finally, there will be health care for all.

  • Usha Abramovitz

    I think you are completely missing the point. By singling out 3 senators, you are ignoring the dozens of other senators and representatives who also have ties to the industry, which have resulted in fake reform bills from both the House and the Senate. Why not list everyone’s funding from the health care sector?

  • It is unfortunate to see such blatant ties to the health industry by officials who should be serving the American public. Hopefully, Reid’s attempts to court their vote do not result in a significant weakening of the reform efforts…