Fearing ‘blue wave,’ drug, insurance companies build single-payer defense


Powerful health-care interests worried that a Democratic “blue wave” could give new energy to single-payer health-care legislation have created a new group to take on the issue.

The formation of the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future is a sign of the health-care industry’s alarm over growing support for a single payer health-care law within the Democratic Party.

Health insurance and drug companies, who are often at odds on policy issues, banded together to form the group, which lobbyists say could run advertisements against single-payer plans and promote studies to undermine the idea.

{mosads}Industry groups are worried that support for single-payer is quickly becoming the default position among Democrats, and they want to push back and strengthen ties to more centrist members of the party to promote alternatives.

“Their worry is about 2020 and it’s becoming the litmus test for Democrats,” said one insurance industry source familiar with the plan to create the new partnership.

When Democrats controlled the White House and Congress at the outset of the Obama presidency, they stopped short of a single-payer system in creating ObamaCare, which the Trump administration and GOP-controlled Congress have worked to dismantle.

But support for a single-payer system has since gained steam, and a wide range of potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have backed Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) “Medicare for all” bill, including Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.), Cory Booker (N.J.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.).

Sanders himself may make a second run for the White House, and he would be expected to put Medicare for all at the center of his campaign.

Seeing that Sanders and far-left figures like New York House candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are “in vogue” among Democrats, one insurance lobbyist said that insurance companies “have felt that they really need to push back on the single-payer stuff.”

“Most Americans support commonsense, pragmatic solutions that don’t interrupt the coverage they rely upon for themselves and their families,” said Erik Smith, spokesman for the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future. “We agree — and that’s what we’ll be supporting.”

He added that the group’s work “may include advertising or the release of studies in the future, but in these early months since our launch, we’re focused on continuing to grow our coalition.”

This week’s special election in Ohio was the latest sign that Democrats have a chance of winning back the House majority. In a district that President Trump won by 11 points in 2016, Republican Troy Balderson is up by less than 1 percentage point.

In November, Republicans will defend 23 seats that Trump lost in the last election, in addition to 45 seats that he won by a smaller margin than the House district.

Democratic control of the House alone wouldn’t lead to a single-payer law in and of itself.

Republicans have a strong chance of building their majority in the Senate, and Trump will be a formidable candidate in 2020.

Still, control of the House would almost certainly give a boost to single-payer supporters. A Medicare for all bill in the House has been co-sponsored by nearly two-thirds of Democratic lawmakers in the House.

The industry source said insurers are more focused on the 2020 race than the midterms and hope to use the new group to “splinter off the moderates” to oppose single-payer.  

The health-care industry largely opposes single-payer because it would mean massive upheaval in the system and likely large financial losses for their companies.

Private health insurers could be completely wiped out, or at least reduced to a much smaller role. Pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and doctors would likely be paid less under a government-run health insurance system.

Supporters argue that using government’s power to achieve savings while covering everyone is a benefit of their plan, not a fault, though some more moderate Democrats worry about the upheaval and impact on hospitals and doctors.

“Every one of those organizations that’s in that group will look at Bernie Sanders’s single-payer and see massive losses of money,” said John McDonough, a former Democratic Senate staffer who worked on the Affordable Care Act and is now a professor at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, which was formed in June, includes a wide range of major players in health care: America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the American Medical Association and the Federation of American Hospitals.

AHIP and PhRMA are currently doing battle with each other over high drug prices, but they have set that fight aside enough to join together to fight single-payer, a threat to both industries.

In June, AHIP also launched a six-figure advertising campaign defending employer-provided health insurance, which would be eliminated under single-payer.

The website of the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future does not directly say that it is intended to fight single-payer, instead using less direct phrases like “building on the strength of employer-provided health coverage.” But lobbyists say that the purpose of the group is to push back on single-payer.

Sanders, the main champion of a single-payer, government-run system, expressed no worry about the efforts by health-care interests. He said it is understandable that they would fight back given the “growing momentum” for single payer.

“It is not surprising, therefore, that the insurance companies and drug companies will spend an enormous sum of money in lobbying, campaign contributions and television ads to defeat Medicare for all, but they are on the wrong side of history,” Sanders said in a statement to The Hill when asked about the new industry group. “Whether they like it or not, we will succeed in guaranteeing health care for all because this is an idea whose time has come.”

Adam Gaffney, president-elect of Physicians for a National Health Program, an advocacy group for single-payer, said industry’s alarm is “clear evidence that we are making progress.”

“It’s an impediment and we’re going to have surmount it,” he said.

Tags Bernie Sanders Cory Booker Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Medicare midterms ObamaCare Presidential Race

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