Health, insurance industries boost spending to influence reforms, group says

March 28, 1994|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The health and insurance industries are pouring exceptionally large sums of money into congressional campaigns in hopes of influencing the health care reform debate, a consumer group charged today.

The industries contributed $11.3 million in 1993 and the first month of 1994, reported Citizen Action, a national group with ties to organized labor. That's a 22 percent increase over what the industries contributed during the comparable period leading to the 1992 elections -- all of 1991 and the first month of 1992.

Millions more in industry contributions are expected as the November elections approach. Federal campaign finance reports filed by the industries and examined by Citizen Action show that health and insurance companies have nearly $16 million in the bank, waiting to be dispensed to candidates.

The actual amount of money spent so far may be significantly higher than $11.3 million because computerized Federal Election Commission reports of individual donors are available only through last June, Citizen Action said. The group's figures represent direct contributions by individual donors who work in these industries and by industry political action committees that raise money from employees.

In addition to making campaign contributions, these industries are spending millions more on advertising, congressional lobbying and other efforts aimed at influencing health care legislation. One insurance consortium, the Health Insurance Association of America, has spent $14 million on TV ads attacking parts of President Clinton's health care reform plan.

Most of the campaign contributions last year went to lawmakers in key leadership positions and those sitting on committees with jurisdiction over health reform legislation. But the leading recipient, by far, is a new member of the Senate elected in a special election last year, Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican who took in $406,000.

The 10 Maryland lawmakers received a combined $168,200 in 1993 and the first month of 1994, led by Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a high-ranking House Democratic leader who received $47,050. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore Democrat who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee and is an important player in the reform debate, collected $43,050.

Citizen Action attributes the sharp increase in industry campaign spending to reform legislation, which would profoundly affect the income of doctors, insurers, hospitals and others. Most of the groups contributing money are fighting for major changes in the reform blueprint Mr. Clinton submitted to Congress, which would restrain increases in fees and premiums charged by doctors, hospitals and insurers.

The groups won a victory last week when a House subcommittee, taking the first congressional vote on reform, watered down Mr. Clinton's proposal to have powerful "health alliances" collect insurance premiums and negotiate prices with health plans.

Citizen Action official Michael Podhorzer charged: "The health and insurance industries are desperate to prevent health care reform."

Asserting that "special interests" are "buying special favors that will surely undermine the vital health care needs of most Americans," he said campaign contributions "create a direct conflict of interest when members of Congress vote on health care."

Citizen Action is lobbying for health reform legislation that would have the government pay all medical bills and permit people to use any private doctor they choose. This approach, which would raise taxes but eliminate most insurance premiums and most insurance companies, has not had enough political support to advance in Congress.

The leading House recipients of health and insurance industry contributions in the 13-month period examined by Citizen Action were Reps. Jim Cooper, a Tennessee Democrat ($164,000); Pete Stark, a California Democrat ($130,000); Richard A. Gephardt, a Missouri Democrat (126,000); and Dan Rostenkowski, an Illinois Democrat ($117,000).

Mr. Cooper is the author of a reform plan that insurers generally would prefer to Mr. Clinton's. It would create insurance purchasing cooperatives mainly to benefit small employers. Mr. Rostenkowski and Mr. Stark are leaders of the Ways and Means Committee; Mr. Gephardt is the majority leader of the House.

In the Senate, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat and chairman of the Finance Committee, was second to Mrs. Hutchison with $200,000.

Next were Sens. Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican ($180,000); Joseph I. Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat ($174,000); and John H. Chafee, a Rhode Island Republican and GOP health reform leader ($169,000).

Mr. Cooper was not available for comment. Mrs. Hutchison's press secretary, Nick Voinis, said the major reason she received as much money as she did was because she ran for office last year in a special election to fill the seat left by Sen. Lloyd M. Bentsen, who resigned to become treasury secretary.

"She is against the Clinton plan," Mr. Voinis said. She supports more conservative approaches that would require less government regulation and spending.

Of all the groups contributing money, doctors and other health practitioners increased their spending the most. They spent $2.6 million, up from $1.9 million in the same period two years ago, a nearly 40 percent change.

Pharmaceutical and medical equipment manufacturers stepped up their contributions by 21 percent, from $1.3 million to $1.5 million.

The American Dental Association political action committee contributed more than any other PAC, $475,000.

The American Medical Association PAC spent $412,000 on behalf of its physician members.

An AMA spokesman declined to comment on the group's PAC.

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