The squeaky wheels of healthcare reform

    If made law, healthcare reform bills could send major economic ripples through the healthcare industries – and they are lobbying fiercely to have legislation fit their needs.

    After months of molding, initial healthcare reform bills have taken shape in Congress. House Democrats introduced legislation this week that would require health insurance for everyone. If made law, the bill could send major economic ripples through the healthcare industries – and they are lobbying fiercely to have the bill fit their needs.

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    For lobbyists in Washington who represent health-related companies, now is the time get busy. House Democrats offered up their version of healthcare reform this week, and the Senate Health Committee also passed reform legislation. Michael Strazzella is a lobbyist for the Hospital and Health System Association of Pennsylvania.

    Strazzella: I would say anytime you have an issue of this magnitude take front and center stage there’s going to be a lot of buzz around it and peoples workloads will increase.

    Strazzella says he’s appealing to all members of the Pennsylvania delegation to make sure they know how healthcare reform might impact hospitals.

    Strazzella: As we work with the members of Congress we’re trying to deliver the message of the need for appropriate reimbursement, for the need to ensure that there’s quality care delivered and that hospitals remain viable.

    Hospitals are not the only ones trying to gets their voices heard above the din.

    Boyle: Health insurance, it’s the pharmaceuticals, it’s health products, it’s hospitals, it’s HMOs and it’s health professionals.

    Mary Boyle is a the spokesperson for Common Cause, a group that tracks money in politics. She says the healthcare industries have become even louder this year, as evidenced by how much they’re spending on lobbying and campaign contributions. A recent analysis by her organization found that these groups spent more than a million dollars a day courting members of Congress – the most they’ve ever spent.

    Boyle: There are at least 5 committees in the House that have jurisdiction over healthcare. They are targeting the members of congress who sit on these committees, they are the key players in this debate.

    Over the years, that has included local representatives such as Robert Andrews and Rush Holt from New Jersey, Joe Pitts and Allyson Schwartz from Pennsylvania. Schwartz continued to be a top earner from pharmaceuticals, hospitals and healthcare providers this years, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Schwartz’s spokesperson Rachel Magnuson says it’s no surprise she’s getting so much attention from the industry.

    Magnuson: Congresswoman Schwartz has spent much of her professional life working on healthcare reform, from prior to serving in elected office to when she was a state senator. She has a very active role in healthcare reform here in Congress.

    Magnuson adds that the money does not direct Schwartz’s lawmaking in any way. But some are concerned that industry lobbying will overshadow what constituents want. Wendell Potter defected from the insurance industry after 20 years of speaking on its behalf. He’s now a senior fellow with the watchdog group the Center for Media and Democracy.

    Potter: They have their agenda, the special interests. They want to shape reform to meet their needs and their expectations and that might not be and it certainly isn’t the same interest that most Americans have.

    Healthcare, insurance, and pharmaceutical companies are major employers in this region, and they do represent many constituents.

    Potter: The problem I guess is the imbalance. Most Americans are not represented the way the special interests are represented in congress.

    Mary Boyle at Common Cause says campaign contributions and lobbying are time-proven methods of buying influence in legislation.

    Boyle: You can see that because we have public policies that are not in the public interest, that polling shows the majority of Americans want changed and they don’t support, yet things in Washington remain the same.

    Boyle says an interesting case is Pennsylvnia Senator Arlen Specter. At more than $7 million, he’s raised the most money from health care groups since 2000. That’s compared to Schwartz’s $800,000 for the same period. Yet Specter’s the sponsor of legislation that would encourage political candidates to take only small donations and public funds as campaign contributions.

    A previous version of this story misspelled Rachel Magnuson’s name. WHYY regrets the error.

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