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Obamacare: A plan of, by and for special interests

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For a law that supposedly sticks it to big business, President Obama's health care overhaul sure has a lot of industries counting on it for profits. In recent weeks, plenty of new evidence suggests Obamacare was a boondoggle for special interests.

Hedge fund honcho Larry Robbins told the crowd at the prominent Sohn Investment Conference last week to buy hospital stocks. Obamacare, Robbins argued, would boost profits for the industry.

Insurers might be in the same boat. A Bloomberg Government study released last week found insurers would lose out on a trillion dollars in revenue between 2013 and 2020 if the Supreme Court struck down Obamacare in its entirety. Most of the trillion at stake comes from federal subsidies created by Obamacare.

At a high-dollar Obama fundraiser in late April, former President Clinton told of his experience discussing Obamacare with the health care industry. Clinton described a health-sector crowd made up of insurers and providers, and said that after his defense of Obamacare, "they said, you're preaching to the saved -- even those of us who don't like certain provisions of the health care law would be mortified if it were repealed."

But at the Obamacare trough, insurers and hospitals get a far smaller portion than the drug industry, which spent more than half a billion dollars lobbying between 2009 and 2010 -- far more than any other industry.

Since the Obamacare debates began in the spring of 2009, we've known drug lobbyists had a privileged seat at the table, but we didn't know exactly what the drug industry got from the "reform" -- and just how the industry repaid Democrats.

Now the veil is lifting. Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee spent the last year pressuring the White House to turn over documents relating to drug industry-White House negotiations. Last week, committee Republicans began releasing the details.

"What the hell?" then-Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina wrote in a Jan. 10, 2010, email to the top lobbyist for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA. "This wasn't part of our deal."

Republicans are being coy in leaking the documents, and so we don't know exactly what "our deal" was at that moment, or what Messina saw as a breach, but it bolsters what we suspected -- that there was a deal between the drug industry and the administration of a president who, ironically, had run against the drug industry.

Here's some context to that email: Messina (now Obama's campaign manager) was writing to James Bryant Hall, then the senior vice president for federal affairs for PhRMA, the industry's top lobbyist behind PhRMA President Billy Tauzin.

Hall, who did not respond to my request to talk, is a former Democratic Senate staffer and a regular Democratic donor. At the time of the email, Hall had given more than $12,000 to Democratic candidates and committees. Since then he has given an additional $16,500, including $11,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and $500 to Priorities USA, Obama's super-PAC.

Visitor logs show 11 visits by a James B. Hall to the Obama White House. The first two came in late March 2009, including a small meeting with Jennifer Cannistra, then director of special projects in the White House Office of Health Reform.

Three days after Messina sent the "What the hell?" email to Hall, Hall visited the White House and met with Kristin Sheehy, Messina's special assistant, visitor logs show. Hall also sat in on high-level meetings at the White House throughout the summer of 2009, when media reports indicate the PhRMA-White House deal took firm shape.

After passing Obamacare, Hall left PhRMA for the Democrat-heavy Tiber Creek lobbying firm, whose stars include Clinton White House alumni such as Harold Ickes and former Obama fundraiser and 2008 transition team member John Michael Gonzalez.

Messina was at the center of PhRMA-White House cooperation from Day One. The Sunlight Foundation reported that on April 15, 2009, Messina met with PhRMA officials, Senate staff and others at the headquarters of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Sunlight writes: "At the meeting, the groups decided to form two nonprofit entities to promote reform efforts, Healthy Economy Now and Americans for Stable Quality Care, that would be funded almost entirely by PhRMA."

Those groups spent more than $20 million supporting the law, and PhRMA-funded groups also spent millions to re-elect the Democratic candidates who voted for it.

What else did the drug industry give Obama? Maybe the White House documents will tell.

Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.

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