Business Bids to Shape Health Changes
Chamber of Commerce Plans Effort to Challenge New Regulations and Unseat Those Who Voted for Law
By JANET ADAMY
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is planning a broad effort to blunt the health overhaul by trying to shape its regulatory language and spending heavily to unseat vulnerable Democrats who voted for it.
The campaign is the latest example of the escalating tensions between proponents of the health overhaul and big businesses, which have become more specific in their criticisms of the new law.
In recent days, a handful of large companies have reported hefty charges because the law eliminates a tax deduction for firms that offer prescription-drug coverage to retirees.
In a letter to board members Monday, chamber president and chief executive Thomas J. Donohue said the business lobby will seek changes to regulations to "minimize the potentially harmful impacts of this bill on our members and the country." If regulators "exceed legislative mandates or try for end-runs around the lawful rule-making process," he wrote, the chamber "will take legal action."
Mr. Donohue also said the group planned to spend $50 million this summer and fall to ensure that voters in pivotal House and Senate races know where lawmakers stand on health and other big issues. The chamber spent $36.4 million in the 2008 election.
At the heart of the effort will be a team of chamber staff that will "participate in the years-long process of writing the thousands of pages of federal regulations that will implement the many provisions of this legislation," Mr. Donohue wrote.
While the chamber can't actually write those provisions, it can lobby for certain language and technical corrections.
Other major lobbies are readying similar efforts. Although the legislation contains more than 2,000 pages of provisions, many details are left to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to define, and will require more specific regulatory language.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce plans to spend $50 million this summer and fall to sway election outcomes around the issue. Janet Adamy joins the News Hub to discuss.
America's Health Insurance Plans, the insurance industry's main lobbying group, has formed a task force to coordinate its implementation efforts and plans to give its input as officials draw up the regulations.
The American Medical Association, which represents doctors, hopes to shape provisions including a new panel to impose Medicare payment cuts, as well as increased research comparing the effectiveness of medical treatments, according to a spokeswoman for the group.
Major groups that supported the bill also plan to spend heavily on the 2010 elections. The AFL-CIO labor organization plans to surpass the $53 million it spent during the 2008 elections in this year's fall races.
Meanwhile, Families USA, a liberal advocacy group, has teamed with insurers to launch an educational campaign that will help people sign up for insurance at places like doctors' offices and pharmacies.
President Barack Obama on Tuesday signed into law the final package of changes to the health overhaul. The $938 billion overhaul will extend health insurance to 32 million Americans by expanding the Medicaid federal-state insurance program for the poor and giving lower earners tax credits to offset the cost of buying care.
In exchange, most Americans will be required to carry insurance and employers will be required to help pay for it.
Lawrence Summers, chairman of the president's National Economic Council, said Tuesday that the bill would help large firms in multiple ways. For instance, he said, employers now pay about $1,000 per worker more for insurance to subsidize medical care for the uninsured, an amount the new law would reduce.
"The bill represents our nation's most serious effort ever at health-care cost control, which ultimately addresses for many of these businesses what is their largest cost," Mr. Summers said.
In his letter, Mr. Donohue contended the law would impose $569 billion in new and higher taxes that would eliminate jobs, increase insurance premiums and prompt millions of workers to leave employer plans for government-subsidized insurance. The organization, which says it represents three million employers, was among the most vocal opponents of the legislation while Congress assembled it.
In recent days, a number of large companies, including insurer Prudential Financial Inc., telecom giant AT&T Inc. and heavy-equipment maker Caterpillar Inc. have announced millions of dollars in charges to offset the tax change on retirees' prescription-drug benefits.
In his letter, Mr. Donohue criticized House Democrats for calling the companies to appear before Congress next month to explain the charges.
"They are searching for a way to blame these businesses for a mess that the lawmakers themselves have made," he wrote.
Democrats said they would fight attempts by business to oppose the bill's changes.
"There's going to be a lot of different players in the health-care field that are going to want changes made to protect what they've had in the past," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa). "I don't think we're going to be too anxious to continue the kind of subsidies we've had in the past that drain so much money out of the health-care system."
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