By Megan R. Wilson - 08/25/13 04:06 PM EDT
ObamaCare has become big business for an elite network of Washington lobbyists and consultants who helped shape the law from the inside.
More than 30 former administration officials, lawmakers and congressional staffers who worked on the healthcare law have set up shop on K Street since 2010.
“When [Vice President] Biden leaned over [during the signing of the healthcare law] and said to [President] Obama, ‘This is a big f'n deal,’ ” said Ivan Adler, a headhunter at the McCormick Group, “he was right.”
Veterans of the healthcare push are now lobbying for corporate giants such as Delta Air Lines, UPS, BP America and Coca-Cola, and for healthcare companies including GlaxoSmithKline, UnitedHealth Group and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
Ultimately, the clients are after one thing: expert help in dealing with the most sweeping overhaul of the country’s healthcare system in decades.
"Healthcare lobbying on K Street is as strong as it ever was, and it's due to the fact that the Affordable Care Act seems to be ever-changing," Adler said. "What's at stake is huge. ... Whenever there's a lot of money at stake, there's a lot of lobbying going on."
The voracious need for lobbying help in dealing with ObamaCare has created a price premium for lobbyists who had first-hand experience in crafting or debating the law.
Experts say that those able to fetch the highest salaries have come from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or committees with oversight power over healthcare.
Demand for ObamaCare insiders is even higher now that major pieces of the law, including the healthcare exchanges and individual insurance mandate, are being set up through a slew of complicated federal regulations.
“Congress is easy to watch,” said Tim LaPira, a politics professor at James Madison University who researches the government affairs industry, “but agencies are harder to watch because their actions are often opaque. This leads to a greater demand on K Street” for people who understand the fine print, he said.
“K Street's agenda follows the government's agenda. It's not typically the other way around," he said.
Watchdogs say the rise of the ObamaCare lobbyist is another example of the “revolving door” that turns public service into private enrichment.
“After passage of major legislation, those who have networks on Capitol Hill take exceedingly lucrative jobs with the same industries subject to the legislation,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen. “It raises questions about the [bill's] integrity.”
For K Street, healthcare lobbying has been a bright spot in what has otherwise been a down business cycle.
While lobbying revenue at major firms has been flat or declining in recent years, the healthcare law has generated steady work — a trend that is likely to continue for years to come.
That’s because ObamaCare runs on a long timeline — well into the next administration. Unless the law is severely crippled, the reform's rules and requirements will be rolling out through at least 2020.
That’s good news for lobbyists who want to sign up clients for the long haul.
The windfall from the healthcare overhaul is being reaped at firms large and small. Some veterans of the legislative push have landed at boutique firms that are increasingly specializing in lobbying niches.
The firm Avenue Solutions, for instance, recently hired Yvette Fontenot, a former staffer for both the Senate Finance Committee, which wrote ObamaCare’s tax-related provisions, and HHS's Office of Health Reform, which is assisting the implementation.
Since her hire in April, the four-woman firm has picked up Health Care Service Corp. as a client, and Fontenot is now lobbying for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association as well.
The Democratic firm banks about $3 million in revenue per year, records show, but is on pace for growth in 2013, earning $1.8 million through the first half of the year.
It’s not just ex-staffers who are becoming trusted ObamaCare guides — former members of Congress are lobbying on the law as well.
Former Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) joined Alston & Bird in 2011 after dealing with healthcare and tax issues as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Now Pomeroy and his one-time chief of staff, Bob Siggins, are lobbying on ObamaCare for clients such as clients such as Vision Service Plan, the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans and Medicare — a health insurance provider.
Consulting is another avenue former staffers and officials can take to work for outside interests while they look to comply with and shape the impending regulations.
“This is not a do-it-yourself project; it's complicated,” said Adler. “They need help from insiders to help navigate this thing correctly.”
Former senior counsel to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Dora Hughes became a senior policy adviser at the law firm Sidley Austin last year.
Hughes is not a registered lobbyist, and told The Hill she mainly provides “strategic policy advice” while abiding by the ethics pledge not to lobby the administration. She has no congressional contacts in her sights, either.
Even the president needs some lobbying know-how when it comes to advancing ObamaCare.
The White House brought on Clinton administration veteran and former lobbyist Chris Jennings last month to help navigate the implementation of the law.
During a call with several directors of the state healthcare exchanges on Wednesday, Jennings was seated in a plum position — right next to Obama.