Healthcare Lobbyists Busy on Capitol Hill

Even though the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the law of the land, the healthcare lobby is alive and well. Various federal agencies are working on full implementation of the law in 2014.  And with legislative tweaks and efforts to defund the law underway, lobbying on healthcare is ongoing.  So far, more than 180 groups have registered to continue shaping the law, according to the Sunlight Foundation.

Ever since President Barack Obama began the long journey to reform, healthcare lobbyists went into high gear.  During 2009 and 2010, $1.06 billion was spent on lobbying; more than $500 million was spent lobbying the legislation in each year, according to a report from the Center for Responsive Politics. Lobbyists for 1,251 organizations worked on healthcare reform in 2009 and 2010, according to the Sunlight Foundation.  Individual lobbyists who reported working on health related legislation totaled 3,154 in 2010, with Big Pharma topping the list.  The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America spent $22 million and employs 52 lobbyists.  Political donors with ties to the healthcare sector raised $137 million for federal candidates in the 2010 elections.  That is $30 million less than that sector raised during the 2008 presidential race.

Barbara Kennelley, a former Congresswoman and current President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, notes that lobbyists tried to raise an alarm among senior citizens about how the law might impact Medicare. “When the Affordable Care Act became law last March, critics predicted doom for the seniors and people with disabilities who rely on Medicare.  They said that coverage would disappear, benefits would be cut, and death panels were on their way – none of which was true.  But these lies scared many seniors about the law before it was explained to them.  Now, one year later, as the implementation of the law moves forward, Medicare is still sound – it’s stronger than it was before the law was passed – and millions of people with Medicare are benefitting from the law.”

Medicare has cracked down hard on waste, fraud, and abuse.  The Obama administration last year recovered $4 billion in Medicare fraud.  Additionally, the Affordable Care Act provides tools to crack down even further, specifically saying that Medicare’s guaranteed benefits – hospital care, doctors’ services, home health services, drug coverage, etc. – are protected.  “Benefits are as good as ever – better, in fact, Kennelly said.  “Prescription drugs are more affordable.  This year the nearly four million beneficiaries who fall into the prescription drug ‘doughnut hole’ will receive discounts on their drugs.  These discounts will increase over the next few years until the doughnut hole is closed.”

It’s now 2011 and the lobbying is still going full steam ahead. So far this year, more than 180 firms have registered to lobby for new clients on healthcare issues, 16 of which disclosed the Affordable Care Act as a specific lobbying interest, according to Sunlight’s Lobbying Registration Tracker.

The Obama administration is frustrated that the battle against healthcare reform hasn’t ended. “There still is a lot of intentional misinformation by opponents that continues to be repeated,” said Kathleen Sebelius, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary.  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack agrees with Sebelius and believes that perceptions of the law are shifting as the benefits are implemented.  Vilsack noted that as farmers and small businesses file their 2010 tax returns, they are seeing a tax credit for small businesses of up to 35 percent for premiums paid on health insurance for employees.  “I think the acceptance of this and the awareness of this is going to grow substantially,” Vilsack said.

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