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Medical Interests Spent $876 Million on Reform

The hospital associations also reached a deal with the Democrats to provide $155 billion over 10 years to defray costs for uninsured Americans. The American Medical Association, with a $26.2 million lobbying budget for the stretch, endorsed the legislation, although many medical specialists opposed the overhaul efforts.

Smaller health care interests also joined in on the lobbying. Medical laboratories spent $1.5 million, and acupuncture advocates paid $34,000 to sway lawmakers to include the ancient treatment in the reforms.

Health insurance companies criticized the legislation as not doing enough to control costs. The industry’s chief lobby, America’s Health Insurance Plans, spent $11.5 million on lobbying over the five quarters.

Rolling in Capital

The health care industry’s lobbying easily outpaced other sectors with interests on Capitol Hill, including energy and natural resources, finance and insurance, and communications and technology, the CQ MoneyLine analysis found.

Even as other sectors scaled back during the recent economic downturn, health companies continued to pump big bucks into influencing Congress.

During 2009, health care lobby spending peaked in the fourth quarter, when both the House and Senate approved their separate versions of the legislation.

At the beginning of this year, health care spending dipped as prospects of passage seemed doomed after the Jan. 19 election of Republican Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.) to replace Democratic icon and health care champion Sen. Edward Kennedy.

However, Democrats regrouped, and two months later Congress approved the sweeping health care bill along party lines.

The health care industry was not alone in its interest in the legislation.

During the 15-month stretch, about 2,700 clients, ranging from big-box stores such as Wal-Mart to high-tech firms such as Microsoft, listed health care as one of their lobbying issues, the analysis found.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $148 million on lobbying activities during this period, much of it on an aggressive media campaign to defeat the Democratic health plan.

Companies and trade associations that named health care as one of their priorities paid $333 million to outside firms to advocate on the issue. As big as they are, the health care lobbying expenditures do not reflect the millions of dollars spent by many outside groups on grass-roots and television ads both for and against the health care bill.

“The real winners in the health care debate were the lobbyists who were laughing all the way to the bank, even in a tough economy,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

‘Drinking From a Fire Hose’

For K Street firms, the health care measure allowed them to expand their business.

The law firm Holland & Knight, which ranked ninth among firms in health care fees, fortuitously purchased in early 2009 a small shop that specialized in health care.

“We’ve been drinking from a fire hose,” said firm partner Rich Gold, noting Holland & Knight’s $4.7 million in health care lobbying fees over the past 15 months. He said business has slowed since the bill was signed, but he expects it to pick up as clients seek information about the new law. He said the firm had already prepared webinars for medical device companies and hospitals explaining the new law.

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