AHIP Gave More Than $100 Million to Chamber’s Efforts to Derail Health Care Reform

By Chris Frates for National Journal

The nation’s leading health insurance industry group gave more than $100 million to help fuel the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 2009 and 2010 efforts to defeat President Obama’s signature health care reform law, National Journal’s Influence Alley has learned.

During the final push to kill the bill before its March 2010 passage, America’s Health Insurance Plans gave the chamber $16.2 million. With the $86.2 million the insurers funneled to the business lobbying powerhouse in 2009, AHIP sent the chamber a total of $102.4 million during the health care reform debate, a number that has not been reported before now.

The backchannel spending allowed insurers to publicly stake out a pro-reform position while privately funding the leading anti-reform lobbying group in Washington. The chamber spent tens of millions of dollars bankrolling efforts to kill health care reform.

The behind-the-scenes transfers were particularly hard to track because the law does not require groups to publicly disclose where they are sending the money or who they are receiving it from.

For example, in its 2009 IRS filing, AHIP reported giving almost $87 million to unnamed advocacy organizations for “grassroots outreach, education and mobilization, print, online, and broadcast advertising and coalition building efforts” on health care reform. That same year, the chamber reported receiving $86.2 million from an undisclosed group. Bloomberg’s Drew Armstrong first reported the AHIP-chamber link. The $86 million accounted for about 42 percent of the total contributions and grants the chamber received.

The next year followed a similar pattern. In 2010, AHIP reported giving $16.5 million to unnamed advocacy organizations working on health care reform and the chamber reported receiving about $16.2 million from an undisclosed source, which the Alley has learned was AHIP. The $16.2 million accounted for about 8.6 percent of the total contributions and grants the chamber received that year.

Chamber spokeswoman Blair Latoff would not provide the providence of the $16.2 million donation saying only, “We filed our tax returns for calendar year 2010 in November. Schedule B lists all of our contributions, one of which is $16 million dollars from one entity.”

AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach was similarly vague. He referred the Alley to a statement the group put out in 2010 when AHIP’s $86 million transfer to the chamber was first reported.

“We, like other major stakeholders, invested in advocacy. We supported a number of leading health care advocacy organizations and coalitions that shared our views,” the statement said. “While the new law helps millions of people obtain coverage, it fails to bend the health care cost curve. Health plans are committed to working on ways to make coverage more affordable and minimize disruptions for those who are currently insured.”

An AHIP official did say the $16.5 million spent in 2010 was on advocacy efforts prior to health care reform’s passage and had nothing to do with political spending ahead of the 2010 midterm elections.

The news that insurers gave more than $100 million to help fuel the chamber’s efforts to derail health care reform comes as the nation girds for a Supreme Court decision this month that is sure to reignite the health care reform debate on Capitol Hill and the campaign trail.

Elahe Izadi contributed.


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