Head of health insurance lobby responds to Sanders: 'We disclose all of our lobbying'

Head of health insurance lobby responds to Sanders: 'We disclose all of our lobbying'
© Greg Nash

The head of the health insurance lobby said his industry is taking "Medicare for All" “seriously” and discloses all of its lobbying in response to a letter from Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden lead shrinks, Sanders and Warren close gap: poll Biden allies: Warren is taking a bite out of his electability argument Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi set to unveil drug price plan | Abortion rate in US hits lowest level since Roe v. Wade | Dems threaten to subpoena Juul MORE (I-Vt.) pressing him for how much he would spend opposing the proposal. 

“I mean we're taking it very seriously and we disclose all of our lobbying,” Matt Eyles, the CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), said in an interview with The Hill when asked to respond to Sanders’s letter. “So you can see what we're spending on lobbying. Not all of it will be on Medicare for All, there's a lot of other issues we'll be spending on, but it is an important issue to us.” 

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Lobbying records show that AHIP spent about $5 million on lobbying in the first half of this year, though there are also additional avenues like campaign contributions and advertising spending.

Sanders, a presidential candidate who champions Medicare for All and frequently denounces the health insurance industry, wrote a letter to Eyles, as well as Steve Ubl, the CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, earlier this month asking how much the powerful groups would spend opposing Medicare for All. 

“At a time when your profits are soaring, please tell me how many hundreds of millions of dollars the pharmaceutical industry and health insurance industry will be spending in advertising, lobbying and campaign contributions in opposition to Medicare for All,” Sanders wrote. 

Sanders said a better use of the money would be to “make sure that no one in the wealthiest country in the world dies or goes bankrupt because they cannot afford to purchase life-saving prescription drugs or go to a doctor.”

Eyles did not punch back at Sanders personally, but said his group is fighting back against Medicare for All because the proposal threatens the survival of the private health insurers he represents. 

Asked what his pitch is to lawmakers who are thinking of signing onto Medicare for All, Eyles pointed to the need to build on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), widely known as ObamaCare.

“Building on what we have, the infrastructure that we have, through the ACA, is the best way to expand coverage,” Eyles said. 

“The disruption that you would have, by getting rid of private insurance, in the employer market, telling 180 million Americans that they need to give up their coverage through their employer is really not the best way to fix the problems and expand coverage in our health care system,” he added. 

AHIP is also a member of a coalition of industry groups, the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, that is fighting Medicare for All, as well as somewhat more incremental proposals like former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden lead shrinks, Sanders and Warren close gap: poll Biden allies: Warren is taking a bite out of his electability argument Budowsky: Donald, Boris, Bibi — The right in retreat MORE’s idea of giving anyone the option to buy into a government-run "public option."

Eyles argued that the insurance industry has improved its practices since a decade ago, before the Affordable Care Act, when insurers were able to engage in practices like denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. 

“The way that this industry operates compared to the way it was a decade ago, I would say is, is fundamentally different,” Eyles said. 

“I mean, we are a consumer-centered, patient-centered industry that is really trying to change the way that health care is being delivered for the benefit of the American people in a way that I don't think was really recognized, you know, 10 years ago,” he said. “The industry really has evolved.”