Lobbyists brace for flood of regulations after healthcare ruling

Lobbyists are bracing for a flood of healthcare regulations now that the Supreme Court has cleared away uncertainty about the reform law’s future.

K Street had been preparing for the health law’s individual mandate to be stripped, a scenario insurance companies warned would create chaos for their industry.

But with the mandate intact after Thursday’s 5-4 ruling, lobbyists say they’re ready to get down to the nitty-gritty and focus on the regulations that will be created under the sweeping overhaul. 

Holly Fechner, co-chairwoman of the government affairs practice group at Covington & Burling, predicted the implementation of the healthcare law will now “dramatically accelerate.” 

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“We are working closely with our clients to help them understand the impact of the court’s opinion and we are continuing to engage in the regulatory processes of the key agencies,” Fechner said.

Others on K Street said that with the Supreme Court having spoken, the real work of implementing the law could begin.

“Now that the Supreme Court has ruled, the focus within the executive branch, in the states and throughout the healthcare industry will be on developing and implementing the programs as quickly as possible,” said former Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), now a partner with Venable, in a statement.

Views were mixed on how the ruling would affect business on K Street. Some argued the court’s decision would provide more room for individual companies and trade groups to target smaller parts of the law. 

“This sets the table for more lobbying, as there is now certainty, and interests on all sides will look to change parts they don’t like,” said one lobbyist. 

“Removing the uncertainty about the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act frees up companies and other entities to advocate for legislative and regulatory changes they need. This will increase opportunities,” Fechner said.

But others disagreed, saying the court ruling changed nothing. Congress will enter its slow summer period with election politics front and center, several lobbyists said, leaving little chance for any legislation to become law.

“The ruling today essentially leaves everything in place,” said J. Jonathon Jones with Peck, Madigan, Jones & Stewart. “The healthcare industry will continue its focus on [healthcare reform law] implementation issues, while preparing for the end of the year and 2013 budget discussions where even deeper cuts will be on the table.”

Others noted companies have had ample help on K Street from day one. 

“Those of us who had clients who didn't like this have been working on this since the day it passed,” said one healthcare consultant. “Has the law been a boon for K Street? Absolutely. … Does the court ruling change that one way or the other? Not really, because we have always assumed that this law will be re-legislated.

“If you're interested in this bill and you're not fully hired up, you're stupid,” added the consultant.

Former Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), a special legislative counsel for Alston + Bird and a member of Tauzin Consultants, said he doesn’t expect a hiring spree for lobbyists in reaction to the court ruling. 

“We are in a period of inaction right now for Congress. That's not a great time for K Street,” Tauzin said. “That's going to change, and that's going to change big time in January.”

Tauzin said the Supreme Court's ruling to uphold the mandate because it constitutes a tax would make the healthcare reform law part of the growing debate over tax reform. That is expected to be a major issue for Congress and lobbyists next year.  

“The court just said our government can be big as it wants to be through the tax code,” Tauzin said. “It makes tax reform the big thing next year, and you can bet everyone on K Street is going to be involved with that.” 

Business groups that fought the law vigorously vowed to lobby for changes. 

“The Chamber and the American business community are ready to go to work to enact true healthcare reform. Given the court's decision, the need for action has never been greater,” said Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a statement. 

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), one of the plaintiffs in the case decided by the Supreme Court, plans to continue fighting for repeal. 

“We will push for repeal. We will push for trying to do anything we can do about parts that we think are most onerous,” Dan Danner, NFIB’s president and CEO, told reporters.  

But Danner said he was realistic and didn’t expect action until after the November elections.

“I can assure that this will be a major issue on our plate for candidates across the country in the elections,” Danner said. "At the end of the day, we understand there's not much going to happen between now and the elections and, frankly, the legislative opportunities for change, the elections will without question have a big impact on. We'll see what happens after the elections."

Tauzin agreed, saying that “the legal remedy is gone. The question is now whether you have a political remedy.

“I don't think the Supreme Court eliminated uncertainty. It defined the terms of uncertainty,” Tauzin said. “The November election is going to tell us whether there's a real chance for change in the law."

Elise Viebeck contributed to this report.