The health care industry was at its most generous in 2009, when there were eight lobbyists for every member of Congress.
MINNEAPOLIS — When it comes to lobbying Washington, no single industry can match the lobbying power of the health care industry. The medical field, from pharmaceutical companies to doctors’ associations, has already spent over $120 million on lobbying this year.
The influence of the health sector on the U.S. government is not a new one — the industry spent $552 million in 2009, their biggest year, significantly shifting the conversation while Congress and the president debated the Affordable Care Act. Spending has remained high ever since, with almost $231 million of the $488 million spent on health care lobbying in 2014 coming just from the pharmaceutical industry.
The health care industry even outspends defense and oil and gas in lobbying efforts, and individual organizations like the American Medical Association are some of the biggest spenders in Washington. Unlike the oil and gas industry, spending is more evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, with 51 percent of donations favoring Democrats during the 2010 election cycle and Republicans receiving about $20 million more than Democrats in 2012.
At its peak in 2009, the Center for Public Integrity documented 4,525 Washington lobbyists influencing health care legislation — this works out to eight lobbyists for every member of Congress. Their spending was key in preventing genuine reform, leaving America with a controversial health care law that may even increase expenses for the middle class. According to the center’s Joe Eaton:
“Businesses and organizations that lobbied on health reform spent more than $1.2 billion on their overall lobby efforts. The exact amount they spent on health reform is difficult to quantify because most health care lobbyists also worked on other issues, and lobby disclosure rules do not require businesses to report how much they paid on each issue.
From an industry perspective, it was money well spent. A close look at the health reform bills that passed the House and Senate show lobbyists were apparently effective at blocking provisions like a robust government-run insurance program, and blunting the effect of cost-cutting measures on health care companies.”
In the same year, CBS News’ Sharyl Attkisson reported that the pharmaceutical industry, “spent at least $18 million lobbying Congress on health care reform and, so far, has fought off two proposals that would cost it billions: allowing cheaper drugs to be imported from Canada, and lowering drug prices for some Medicare patients.”
Pharmaceutical companies have continued to spend big to keep drug prices high in America, where the cost of two Qvar asthma inhalers could cover 37 of the same product in Greece. According to a 2013 report from The New York Times, lobbying has ensured that the U.S. government is powerless to put limits on drug prices and has kept consumers from benefiting from competition:
“Lawmakers in Washington have forbidden Medicare, the largest government purchaser of health care, to negotiate drug prices. Unlike its counterparts in other countries, the United States Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, which evaluates treatments for coverage by federal programs, is not allowed to consider cost comparisons or cost-effectiveness in its recommendations. And importation of prescription medicines from abroad is illegal, even personal purchases from mail-order pharmacies.”
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, the controversial trade deal making its way through Congress, also shows clear signs of pharmaceutical industry guidance, ensuring life-saving drugs will remain out of reach of the world’s poor for years to come.