Tag Archives: wellpoint

Reporter uncovers $86 million from insurers to fight reform

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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.

CPI: Insurers prepare $20 mil lobbying effort

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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.

Are insurers to blame for rising costs?

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Carolyn Lochhead and Victoria Colliver use the recent furor over insurer Anthem’s rate hikes to explore just how much of the blame for rising health care costs should be shouldered by insurers. The reporters find that, in the end, insurers are just another one of the cartels (others include device makers and providers) and operate inside the opaque world of medical pricing and snag hefty cuts for themselves. Lochead and Colliver put it thus:

While the Anthem case has raised a political storm, the underlying surge in costs gets far less scrutiny. But each sector of the health industry points fingers at the other for driving up prices, and all are raking in money.

Insurers blame hospitals and doctors, doctors blame insurers, and hospitals blame doctors and medical devicemakers in what academics call an inscrutable medical-industrial complex that rivals anything the defense industry ever invented. All these groups are combining into what many experts describe as cartels.

The reporters write that, despite their best efforts, they weren’t able to get many folks on the record. When they did find someone who was willing to talk, it was often a source we’ve seen before in other cost stories. It’s a tough theme to get quotes on, as nobody wants to burn bridges with their professional suppliers and everybody’s got some sort of skin in the game. They did, however, manage to find a local source who offered an original and illuminating anecdote:

Christina Bernstein, a medical-device engineer and independent sales representative based in San Francisco, sells disposable surgical tools made mostly out of plastic that she estimates are manufactured for about $40 each. These are marked up and sold to hospitals for as much as $350, she said, for a single use in a surgery on a patient.

“But if you were to get a detailed bill of what the hospital was charging the insurance company for the insured patient, those things get marked up to something like $1,200,” Bernstein said. “It’s ridiculous. There’s no open competition.”

(Hat tip to AHCJ Immediate Past President Trudy Lieberman, who wrote a column on CJR.org praising the Chronicle‘s story.)

Bloggers try to connect Baucus plan, WellPoint

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

An analysis by blogger Kevin Conner over at LittleSis seems to point to connections between Montana Sen. Max Baucus’ plan for health reform and insurance heavyweight WellPoint. While nothing has been set in stone, they are the sort of sprawling connections that should be explored and accounted for as the Baucus plan is evaluated, especially in light of the Senator’s well-documented financial connections to the health industry (Hat tip to NPR Health Blog‘s Scott Hensley).

Sen. Max Baucus

Sen. Max Baucus

A glance at the proposal’s Microsoft Word Metadata shows the name of Liz Fowler, a former WellPoint VP who now works for Baucus on the Senate Finance Committee. Furthermore, Wyoming Republican Sen. Mike Enzi’s former chief health adviser, Stephen Northrup, is now WellPoint’s top reform lobbyist. Enzi is a member of Baucus’ bipartisan “Gang of Six,” a group that helped shape the Healthy Future Act. It’s also interesting that, according to Conner, “key provisions in the Baucus plan apparently draw on industry-inspired legislation first introduced by Enzi in 2006, while Northrup was still his chief health aide.”

According to their Web site, “LittleSis is a project of Public Accountability Initiative, a nonprofit nonpartisan research and educational organization focused on government and corporate accountability.”