The flow of money into politics in general, and health reform in particular, has been thoroughly opaque this election season, yet Bloomberg‘s Drew Armstrong has still managed to pull back the curtain and figure out that insurers gave $86 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which then lobbied heavily to either hamstring reform or to reshape it in the insurers’ favor. Armstrong traced the money to America’s Health Insurance Plans through classic reporting tools: public records and well-placed sources.
Tax forms require organizations to list only the amounts granted or received from other groups, not the organizations’ identities. Health insurers expressed opposition to parts of the health-care legislation while they conferred with congressional Democrats writing the bill and the White House. At the same time, the Chamber of Commerce was advertising its opposition.
The Chamber spent $45.5 million on a campaign against the bill in 2009, according to TNS Media Intelligence/Campaign Media Analysis Group, an Arlington, Virginia-based company that tracks political advertising.
The Chamber began in March 2010, weeks before the bill became law, another $10 million effort focused on pressuring lawmakers to vote against the bill. Blair Latoff, a spokeswoman for the Chamber, wouldn’t say how much of the money was spent in 2009 and how much, if any, was used in 2010.
On the Center for Public Integrity’s PaperTrail blog, Peter Stone reports that five of biggest insurers in America are preparing to go to the mat for round two, this time with the intertwined goals of swinging midterm elections and influencing health reform implementation regulations.
According to Stone, Aetna, Humana, United HealthCare, WellPoint and (maybe) Cigna will pool something like $20 million. Look for the new lobbying organization, probably a 501(c) (4) nonprofit, in the next few months. Television ads and a variety of other campaigns will likely follow.
Kaiser Health News’ Phil Galewitz and Michelle Andrews have an update on health care reform implementation, pointing out that new rules will give consumers the right to appeal insurance denials, first directly to the insurer and then to review boards. The rule doesn’t break new ground in most states – only five lack such regulations, and existing plans are “grandfathered in” under the old rules – but it may bring order to a chaotic national patchwork on insurance appeals. The White House estimates that, by next year, the rules will benefit about 41 million Americans insured either through employers or through individual plans. The administration is pushing states to implement the new standards by next July.
The new regulations take effect for plan years starting Sept. 23. But they won’t automatically apply to residents in states that have existing external review laws until next July. That’s to give states time to adjust to the new standards.
If states fail to change their rules by next July, their residents will then be able to rely on the federal standards. But federal officials are still working out the details of how that would be done.
Read the HHS press release here.
- Reporting on health reform between now and 2014: Some top Washington, D.C.-based journalists discussed implementation deadlines, how to tie local issues to reform, Medicare reimbursement rates, what reporters should look for in their states and more. A recording and transcript of this briefing and a resource list are available.
- Covering high-risk insurance pools: The federal government and states are scrambling to create temporary high-risk pools for the medically uninsurable, as one of the first provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to go into effect. Apart from being a policy story, it’s of great interest to all your readers, viewers or listeners who have pre-existing conditions and are struggling to find coverage. Four reporters covering the topic have shared their story tips, suggestions and resources for AHCJ members.
- Health care reform has passed: What’s next? Four journalists on the front lines offer their advice and suggestions on what needs to be covered next, how it might affect local communities and how to approach this complex topic.
The Wall Street Journal‘s Vanessa Fuhrmans and Avery Johnson shed some light on the insurance industry’s low-key effort to ensure its interests are represented at town hall meetings across the country. The duo reported that insurers have sent thousands of employees to these meetings, many armed with memos instructing them to stay calm and to avoid being baited into joining the chaos that has consumed so many recent town hall events.
(Hat tip to NPR Health Blog’s Scott Hensley)