Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pro-Obamacare Republicans in the Pay of the Health Industry

By: Timothy P. Carney
Examiner Columnist
October 14, 2009

As the White House dismissed the insurance lobby's critiques of the Senate health care bill as self-serving corporate disinformation, President Obama used his weekly radio address to laud four former Republican officials for supporting the push for "reform." But Obama failed to mention that these pro-"reform" Republicans -- whom he lauded for "ris[ing] above the politics of the moment" -- are all in the pay of the health care industry and could personally profit from "reform."

Former Republican Health and Human Services Secretaries Louis Sullivan and Tommy Thompson, along with former Senate Majority Leaders Bill Frist (a doctor) and Bob Dole, received plaudits in the president's weekly radio address for exhibiting "the spirit of national purpose" and for understanding "that health insurance reform isn't a Democratic issue or a Republican issue, but an American issue that demands a solution."

Media outlets dutifully carried the Democratic story line: Four important Republicans are backing Obama, but GOP lawmakers remain in lockstep for partisan political readings.

Obama, along with ABC News, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press and nearly everyone who reported on the GOP support for Obamacare, left out the salient detail that these pro-"reform" Republicans are lobbyists, consultants and directors for the drug companies, hospitals and other health care corporations that stand to profit from Obama's reform.

Thompson, the former Republican governor of Wisconsin, served four years as President George W. Bush's HHS chief. Now Thompson is a health care consultant at the lobbying firm Akin Gump, whose clients include insurer Aetna, many drug makers, device makers and hospitals.

Pharmaceutical companies and hospitals are sure to see profits improve from a bill like the current Senate measure. Health insurers like Aetna are walking a fine line between disaster (a government option for health insurance) and a corporate dream come true (the individual mandate). It's naive to imagine Thompson doesn't have his clients' interests in mind in endorsing Obamacare.

Sullivan was George H.W. Bush's HHS secretary in the 1990s. In 2008, Sullivan made $220,000 as a director for four health care companies, including the biotech firm Biosante Pharmaceuticals, where he was chairman of the board, according to Forbes. His total 2008 compensation from these companies (with options and other non-cash compensation) was more than $1 million. He has recently served as a director at Bristol-Myers Squibb and Cigna.

These companies all stand to profit from "reform" legislation that would mandate health insurance, subsidize private insurance and provide more drug subsidies. They are paying Sullivan, and Sullivan is supporting "reform" legislation.

Sullivan leveraged his public service into a private fortune helping big drug makers and insurance companies boost their profits. He is precisely the sort of revolving-door corporate consultant whom candidate Obama accused of corrupting the political system. But now he is on Obama's side, so Sullivan is a "distinguished leader" exhibiting "the spirit of national purpose," in Obama's words.

Frist is a partner in a private investment firm that bets on health care companies -- and on regulation. The firm's Web site reads: "With deep expertise in the healthcare reimbursement and regulatory environments, the Cressey & Company team has invested in almost every for-profit niche of healthcare."

So Frist gets rich by helping pick the health care companies that will get rich. Now he's backing Obamacare -- and winning praise for it.

And Dole, as this column discussed last Friday, is a health care lobbyist for the downtown firm Alston & Bird, which represents drug makers and insurers. The media have something of a blackout on his conflicts of interest, instead using him to cudgel the current GOP leadership for lacking this sort of "bipartisanship."

All of these pro-"reform" Republicans would say their support for Obamacare is not related to their financial interests. But the White House has declared the profit motive sufficient to discredit criticism of "reform." White House aide Linda Douglass (the woman who called in August for citizens to report "fishy" e-mails about proposed health care regulations) dismissed a recent critical report by health insurers as "distorted" and "dishonest," stating: "It comes on the eve of a vote that will reduce the industry's profits."

But Obama has been holding out as heroes these four Republicans supporting a plan that will likely enhance their personal profits. Maybe ulterior motives only matter if you're opposing the White House.

Timothy P. Carney, The Examiner's lobbying editor, can be reached at He writes an op-ed column that appears on Friday.

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