Health Care Lobbyists...Partisan?

Posted by: John Tozzi on July 08, 2009

We’ve been covering the health care reform debate in Washington because small business owners have a huge stake in finding a solution that reduces costs and expands coverage. And following up on our post yesterday about the various advocacy groups that claim to represent small business in the health care discussion, I want to flag this post by Robb Mandelbaum at the NY Times blog on the Small Business Majority.

Mandelbaum uncovers some unsurprising ties between the group and Democratic causes, and argues that it shouldn’t really be considered “nonpartisan:”

Informally, however, it is allied with the Democratic Party. Mr. Arensmeyer serves as a board member of the Bay Area Democrats, which describes itself as “a network of private citizens active in national Democratic Politics.” Since 2002, Mr. Arensmeyer has given generously, and exclusively, to Democratic candidates, according to F.E.C. records. (“I’ve voted for Republicans,” he offers.)

Mandelbaum goes so far as to say “Small Business Majority has all the hallmarks of a shadowy interest group, starting with a name that conceals more than it reveals. Of course, that’s business as usual in Washington.”

Indeed — they’re called lobbyists. It’s worth noting that the National Federation of Independent Business describes itself as a “nonprofit, nonpartisan” group that “represents the consensus views of its members in Washington and all 50 state capitals,” but it still tilts pretty clearly and pretty consistently to the right, with close ties to the Republican party.

The NFIB’s current president, Dan Danner, worked in the Reagan White House as a special assistant to the president in the Office of Public Liaison, and in the Commerce Department. He had previously been a lobbyist for the steel company Armco, now part of AK Steel. (More detail at WhoRunsGov.) Their previous president, Jack Faris, had been head of the Republican National Finance Committee. For useful background, see this 2006 piece in Fortune Small Business.

No one should be surprised that lobbyists have political ties and allegiances. I think most entrepreneurs are more interested in practical solutions than party or ideology. (That alone is a huge difference between business and politics.) And it’s heartening to see some broad agreement from across ideological lines: both NFIB and Small Business Majority broadly support the SHOP Act, which allows for purchasing pools that cross state lines, tax credits for companies that pay for employees’ insurance, and some restrictions on insurers to prevent them from charging unhealthy or older workers more.

I’ll second Mandelbaum’s call for “a world where organizations that purport to advocate for small firms are upfront about their own agendas and whom they represent.” If ever there’s an issue that needs transparent debate, creative thinking, and solutions based on results rather than ideology, it’s how to make the US health care system work for small businesses and their workers.

Update, 7/9/09

Today I found this project from the Center for Responsive Politics tracking the lobbying money from the big interest groups (pharma, hospitals, business, labor, insurers, etc.). Take a look for yourself.

Reader Comments

Scott W. Dowling

July 9, 2009 12:54 AM

Health care and health insurance are two separate and distinct things.

Health care is provided by doctors/hospitals/pharma/other providers to patients in need.

Health insurance is a contract between a group/individual and an insurance company.

Health care costs account for approximately 80 cents of every dollar spent on insurance premium.

The Federal Government has no oversight and very little jurisdiction over insurance companies and delivery of their product.

ERISA exempts large multistate employers, unions and the federal government from state insurance laws. Small employers and individuals are left out of this exemption.

Non-employer groups must gain exemption from ERISA in order to allow small employers and individuals to gain access to competitive group plans and the freedom and mobility to switch health insurance to those plans most suitable and cost effective for their needs.

Further, transparency of price and outcomes must be communicated by providers to create easy and accessible price/value discovery by consumers.

If theses types of reforms are enacted, lobbyists will happily go away. The markets will provide what the consumer wants in an efficient and cost effective manner free of government control or intervention.

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What's it like to run your own company today? Entrepreneurs face multiple hurdles new and old, from raising capital and managing employees to keeping up with technology and competing in a global marketplace. In this blog, the Small Business channel's John Tozzi and Nick Leiber discuss the news, trends, and ideas that matter to small business owners. Follow them on Twitter @newentrepreneur.

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