Once upon a long golden time ago, when the world was young and health insurance agents had no idea that their activities were interesting to anyone other than themselves, the National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU) used to let me attend some of its political action committee (PAC) meetings without anyone at NAHU thinking to mention that the meetings might be off the record.
The meetings were held in brightly lit hotel conference rooms, not smoke-filled rooms, and it could well be that there were smoke-filled rooms occupied by cackling lobbyists, Jimmy Hoffa and demonic space aliens, but it seems as if just getting into the brightly lit PAC conference rooms would have been a health care finance conspiracy theorist’s dream come true.
What hit me at the time was that the PAC meetings were pretty much like any other fundraising meeting.
The PACs that represent nurses or consumers might think of themselves as being broke, and maybe they are, but it seemed as if the NAHU PAC also thought of itself as being broke. About 95 percent of the time at the PAC meeting was taken up with pleas for producers to please give more money to the PAC, ideally by signing up for a regular contribution plan. Maybe 5 percent of the time was taken up with talk about strategy, and the main devious idea presented was that lobbyists ought to try to build relationships with everyone willing to talk to them and that PACs ought to try, when possible, to build relationships with as broad a range of congressional candidates as possible.
The PAC meetings really seemed to be about as wholesome as a Girl Scout meeting, and, really, maybe health insurance industry PACs and PAC meetings are actually a force for good for the country as a whole.
I can’t imagine that there are any health insurance company executives who really want to stick it to sick policyholders. They might be a lot more skeptical about sob stories than I am, and they may have a different idea about what constitutes a valid claim, but it seems to me that they sincerely want their enrollees to stay healthy, and for the enrollees to get good care when they do fall ill.
It seems to me that the health insurance agents and brokers at NAHU and other producer groups are about as committed to fighting for individual customers and employer client plan enrollees to get good, cost-effective care as those enrollees’ own parents would be.
Those folks, doctors, nurses, think tank analysts, government officials and others might have different ideas about how to run the health finance system, and they, of course, want to protect their own role in the system and maximize their own income.
I think producers, insurance company executives and their lobbyists play an especially important role because just about everyone on Capitol Hill and in state capital cities knows what it’s like to be a patient, and most have seen enough doctor shows on television to have a vague idea about what it’s like to be a doctor or to run a hospital. But few people outside public and private insurance programs knows what it’s like to come up with the money to pay all of the claims, to evaluate the claims carefully, and to pay the claims quickly, without running out of money. If members of the health insurance industry community and their PACs don’t talk about the cold, hard economics of paying for health care, who will?
Those thoughts came up today as I was looking at the wonderful database of Federal Election Commission (FEC) federal campaign contribution data that MapLight has created using FEC data from OpenSecrets.org.
Under “accident & health insurance,” for example, the database lists the top 10 Senate recipients funded from July 1, 2005, through June 30, 2011, and the top 10 House recipients funded over that same period.
The top recipients in both chambers are Republicans.
Over in the Senate, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., tops the list with $207,401 in accident & Health sector contributions.