ObamaCare’s architects reap windfall as Washington lobbyists

By Megan R. Wilson for The Hill

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.

Major lobbying firms such as Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock, The Glover Park Group, Alston & Bird, BGR Group and Akin Gump can all boast an Affordable Care Act insider on their lobbying roster — putting them in a prime position to land coveted clients.

“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.


  1. Walter Wilde on August 30, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    It would be useful, since you must know who the 30+ former participants in crafting the ACA are, to give us the full list, with name, former position, and current position, or at least let us know where we can find that information.

  2. Allen Lieberman on August 30, 2013 at 6:34 pm


  3. jonik on August 31, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    Except for Blue Cross/Shield, there doesn’t appear to be much lobbying by insurers, especially the for-profits. Aren’t they the top intended recipients of this windfall? After all, they’re being handed millions of new customers from whom to extract billions of dollars, a ton of that which will be put into Wall Street Investments.

    One trouble with those investments is that they are often in some of the worst health-damaging industries, including even Cigarette Manufacturers (search “PNHP Insurers Tobacco”)….not to mention big oil, fracking, chlorine, junk foods, pesticides (incl. pharms that make tobacco pesticides), GMOs, chemical-intensive agriculture, coal, and military weaponry.

    If one might think that this huge, dark aspect of Obamacare would be loudly exposed and condemned in order to support Single Payer…one would be wrong.
    This isn’t “Obamacare”, it’s Insurance Industry Care, and, once again, Wall Street Care. If we follow the money…the investment trail…it may significantly even be Koch Brothers Care.

    PS: It may appear to be almost Too Clever…but the Repug-Tea Party opposition to Obamacare may have been intentionally concocted precisely to con Dems and progressives into supporting it so as not to appear allied with goonish, often racist Obamacare opponents.

  4. John on September 1, 2013 at 5:06 am

    There is no room for profit in health care. We pay premiums to insurance companies who then spend their time on how to maximize their profits and limit our services.

    Healthcare should be NON-PROFIT. THe CEO’s and CFO’s of health insurance companies should be eliminated. We need OUR money to be protected from this Cosa Nostra of the Republican Party.

    Dump Obamacare and enact HR676. Or model it after Germany’s health care program. Non-profit health care providers compete with each other for customers. The best stay in business and the worst fail and fall apart.

    Wake up, Americans. The privatization fever does not have a place in health care. Amputate this disease.

    John Nichols

  5. George Pauk MD on September 1, 2013 at 10:06 am

    Also, another sordid story is the hundreds of million dollars going in grants to orgs to promote enrollment in ACA. A buyout and payoff for supporters.

  6. John Barleycorn. on September 3, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Amerika the bruteful!

  7. John Barker on September 3, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    The relentless and successful push by Republicans and corporate Democrats to privatize Medicare deeply concerns me. The most insidious back door Medicare privatization scheme is Medicare Advantage Plans (MAPs) an apt acronym because they are a roadmap for successful privatization. Seniors are offered subsidized “advantages” to enroll in these plans and more than 25% of Medicare eligible seniors have enrolled in MAPs.

    Don McCanne M.D. commented in a item entitled “U.S to boost rather than cut payments to health insurers” on this website from a Washington post article that the Obama administration planned to boost MAP subsidies 3.3% in response to pressure from the health insurance industry and corporate politicians in Congress rather than reduce the subsidies by 2.2% as called for in the ACA.

    This was really depressing news because one of the few things ACA got right was to cut the MAP subsidies and even the playing field for standard Medicare to compete with MAPs. When moveon.org suggested creating petitions for issues of concern I decided to try, so I posted a petition at http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/medicare-advantage-plans to urge the president and Congress to eliminate MAP subsidies. I hope that you will go there and sign the petition.