Insurers praised parts of Democratic health law but gave mostly to Republicans

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Insurers praised parts of Democratic health law but gave mostly to Republicans
Sun, 10-07-2012 - 1:16pm
Insurers praised parts of Democratic health law but gave mostly to Republicans

Major health-insurance industry players supported President Obama's health-care law while at the same time making big contributions to members of Congress who are trying to get rid of it, files show.

By Reity O'Brien

The Center for Public Integrity

WASHINGTON — The health-insurance industry presented itself as an ally of President Obama's health-care law while at the same time making hefty contributions to members of Congress who are trying to get rid of it, according to contribution records.

Between January 2007 and August 2012, the political-action committees (PACs) of the 11 largest health-insurance companies and their primary trade group gave $10.2 million to federal politicians. Nearly two-thirds of the total went to Republicans who oppose the law or support its repeal, according to the Center for Public Integrity's analysis of Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings.

The 11 top companies, according to the Fortune 500 list, controlled 35 percent of the industry in 2011, according to data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. The top industry trade group is America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP).

Much of the money rolled in as health-insurance industry leaders showed support for the Democrats' overhaul.

"We are ready to be accountable to these (new) rules," Karen Ignagni, AHIP's president and chief executive officer told the Senate Finance Committee in May 2009, about a year before Obama's landmark legislation was signed into law. And a month after Obama's Affordable Care Act became law in March 2010, Ignagni said her organization was "strongly committed" to its "successful implementation."

Likewise, Ron Williams, then chairman and chief executive officer of Aetna, the country's fifth-largest health-insurance company, also spoke favorably about the bill — at first.

"I believe that President Obama and this Congress have charted a course of change," Williams said in June 2009. "I want to make clear that we, too, are committed to expanding access, controlling costs and improving the quality and value of care people receive."

But Williams, who left Aetna in April 2011, wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece in June calling for health-care overhaul at the state level and criticizing the federal law's mandate.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., ranks as the top recipient of PAC money from the top insurers since 2007, according to the center's analysis. Cantor, a tea-party favorite and one of the law's most vocal critics, has received about $258,000 from AHIP and the top industry PACs.

In January 2011, Cantor introduced the Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act, the first of 33 repeal efforts that have reached the House floor.

That same year, Aetna, Humana, UnitedHealth Group and WellPoint — which together control 28 percent of the health-insurance market — maxed out to Cantor, giving $10,000 apiece to his campaign committee. That doesn't include additional sums that went into the congressman's leadership PAC.

Behind Cantor, Rep. David Camp, R-Mich., ranks second in contributions from the health-insurance industry. The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has pulled in more than $234,000 from these PACs since 2007. Last year, Camp sponsored a bill that would cut $11.6 billion in funding for the law.

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican nominee for vice president, also is among the top recipients ($187,000). This year, Ryan, who heads the House Budget Committee, sponsored two major budget plans that called for the law's repeal.

Other top recipients of health-insurance PAC money during this period include House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio ($209,500); Republican House Whip Kevin McCarthy of California ($149,700); Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who is the ranking GOP member of the Senate Finance Committee ($151,500); and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont. ($142,400).

If the health-insurance industry was in favor of key parts of the law, why support members of Congress bent on killing it?

The industry supported the law's centerpiece: the requirement that almost everyone sign up for health insurance or pay a penalty, a provision expected to benefit the health-insurance industry.

In addition, when the law passed, the Democratic Party controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. By supporting the law, the industry was able to stay in the game on a complex piece of legislation.

But there were plenty of provisions the industry did not like and would like to see repealed. For example, under the new law, insurance companies must spend at least 80 cents of every premium dollar on medical care for individual and small-business policyholders, and 85 cents for large groups. That's a provision the industry would like to see repealed.

Insurers must send policyholders or their employers rebate checks if the ratio drops below those levels.

AHIP and WellPoint — the industry's top PAC contributor — did not reply to telephone or email inquiries requesting comment. Representatives from Aetna, Amerigroup, Cigna and Humana declined to comment.

The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, independent investigative news outlet.

Andrea Fuller, Lydia Mulvaney and Michael Beckel of The Center for Public Integrity

contributed to this report.