Corporations bet on insiders to bend reform

Health care investors have breathed a sigh of relief that the Senate health reform bill contains no government-run insurance plan but still dumps billions of dollars of subsidies into the health care sector.

For those corporate-friendly victories, some say, they have the lobbyists to thank.

Local health care heavyweights such as Eli Lilly and Co., Roche Diagnostics Corp., WellPoint Inc.  and their peers nationwide relied on a bevy of former congressional staffers and even some former legislators to turn the bill as favorably their way as possible.

That was the conclusion of an exhaustive analysis of public lobbying reports by the Chicago Tribune and Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. They tallied 166 lobbyists for health care companies who used to be aides for the nine congressional leadership offices or the five committees involved in writing health reform legislation.

The lobbyists’ clients spent $635 million on lobbying over the past two years, the Dec. 20 story reported.

Liberals have seized on the corporate lobbying bonanza in their criticism of the bill as a sellout to corporate interests.

“From start to finish, the insurance and drug industries—and their army of lobbyists—had control over the process that resulted in a bill that is reform in name only,” wrote liberal blogger Arianna Huffington after the key vote in the Senate.

The biggest spenders were drug industry groups, such as PhRMA and the Biotechnology Industry Organization. But individual companies did their part, too.

Lilly hired eight former legislative staffers from those key offices and committees, according to the Tribune’s database. In all, Lilly has 56 lobbyists working in Washington and spent $9 million on lobbying through the first nine months of this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

"The numbers shouldn’t surprise anyone," Ken Johnson, a senior vice president for PhRMA, the drug industry group, told the newspaper. "Former staffers have a unique understanding of how the legislative process works. And when you are trying to advocate on behalf of smart public policies, you want smart people on your team."

Roche Diagnostics lobbyists included three former staff members from the key offices and committees, as well as one ex-lawmaker—former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats.  Roche Diagnostics spent only $180,000 on lobbying through September, but its parent organization, Hoffmann-La Roche, racked up a $4 million bill.

WellPoint Inc. spent $3.6 million on lobbying through September, using two former staff members from the key committees and lawmakers. Its biggest goal has been to shoot down the public option, or a government-run insurance plan that would compete with WellPoint’s private health plans. So far, it’s succeeding.

But Andrew Rosenberg, a Roche Diagnostics lobbyist and a former staffer for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, told the Tribune that political conditions, not the inside connections of lobbyists, killed the public option.

"You could see this coming from a long way off,” he said. "It was going to have to be something that appeals to moderates" opposed to expanding government-run health insurance.

One other Indiana company, Bloomington-based Cook Group Inc., used as a lobbyist a former staff member of the House Ways and Means Committee. The company spent $240,000 on lobbying through the first nine months of the year.

Other Indiana health care companies lobbying this year included Batesville-based hospital bed maker Hill-Rom Holdings Inc. ($190,000), Warsaw-based orthopedic implant makers Zimmer Holdings Inc. ($165,000) and Biomet Inc. ($150,000), Indianapolis hospital systems Clarian Health ($160,000) and Community Health Network ($50,000), and life sciences industry group BioCrossroads ($65,000).

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