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Health Care Reform Brings On New Clients

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The Home School Legal Defense Association has historically steered clear of Capitol Hill health care debates, which did not seem relevant to its mission of keeping the federal government out of its business.

But this year the conservative group has joined a stampede of companies, trade associations and public entities that want a say in Congress’ drive to reshape the nation’s health care system.

“We are new to the health care lobbying issue. I think everyone and their brother has gotten involved in it,” said William Estrada, director of federal relations for the Virginia-based home-school advocacy organization. The group is concerned that a provision tucked into the legislation funding home visits to counsel expectant mothers would threaten parental rights.

The home-schoolers are one group of more than 800 companies and organizations that were not involved in health care at all last year and then listed the hot-button topic as an issue that they were lobbying on this year in disclosure reports filed with Congress. That is an increase of almost a third in the number of entities lobbying on health care.

Organizations and companies reported paying $187 million to outside firms during the first three quarters of 2009 to lobby on health care, though that number also captures additional lobbying issues. That is a $40 million jump from the same period in the previous year.

The amount of dollars spent by health-care-related companies and groups alone also rose by about 10 percent to $467 million in the first nine months of this year compared with the same period in 2008. That figure does not count the millions of dollars shelled out by other groups that have been lobbying aggressively on health care, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and labor unions.

The roster of entities that have joined the health care debate this year ranges from national retail companies such as Home Depot, Best Buy and 7-Eleven, to nonprofits such as the League of American Orchestras and trade organizations such as the Puerto Rico Bankers Association. Cities, universities and local hospitals have also employed lobbyists on the issue as have American Indian tribes and farm advocates.

The Podesta Group topped the list of lobbying firms in terms of the increase in dollars from clients listing health care as an issue this year over last year.

The firm collected about $2.4 million more, or an 87 percent increase, in the first three quarters of this year.

“Lobbying revenue increases usually follow issues that are front and center on the Hill. Health Care is undeniably one of those issues,” said Missi Tessier, a Podesta spokeswoman. The percent increase in the firm’s health care related dollars was slightly larger than its overall growth rate this year of about 60 percent, she said. Tessier said the firm attracted health care clients in part because of the reputation of its health care team, including the firm’s founder, Tony Podesta, a former counsel to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who championed health care reform.

Podesta’s clients that listed health care as an issue this year included biotechnology firm Genentech and the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, as well non-health-care-related companies such as Oracle and Nestle USA.

Broderick Johnson, a partner at Bryan Cave, a lobbying firm that had one of the larger increases in health care-related business this year, said nearly no corporate client wants to be left out of the health care debate.

“They certainly realize how much a role they have in this because of their health care plans,” Johnson said.

Bryan Cave drew $1.2 million in additional business from clients that listed health care as an issue this year, a 175 percent increase from the first three quarters of 2008. Johnson said part of the reason for the increase was that Bryan Cave merged this year with Powell Goldstein.

Bryan Cave’s clients interested in health care include American Society of Clinical Oncology, the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems, Walmart and the Regional Medical Center at Memphis.

Not all of the increase in health care lobbying is directly related to the health care reform measure now being debated in Congress. Kelley Drye & Warren’s big jump in client revenue from companies that listed health care was due to its lobbying on behalf of Omega Protein Corp. Omega has been seeking appropriations language that would promote public awareness of the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.

Many health care newcomers are motivated by parochial concerns.

The home-school group, which has spent $60,000 so far this year on lobbying, zeroed in on one of the lesser-known provisions of the legislation. It would award grants to states to fund home visitation programs by professionals to provide advice for pregnant women and families with children under the age of five. The visits, according to supporters, are intended to promote parenting skills, reducing risk for child abuse and advocate prenatal and early childhood health.

Estrada said that while the program would be voluntary, he feared that states might feel pressured to push for more visits to keep their funding levels up.

“We are concerned about any situation where the federal officials are going into homes and teaching families how to raise kids,” he said. The home-school association, with its three-person in-house lobbying team, has devoted most of its resources to getting information to its membership and talking to lawmakers on the Hill.

On its Web site, the home-school group urged its members prior to the House vote on health care to call their Representatives and “oppose the federal government’s takeover of health care.” However, it also advised “you should not identify yourself as a homeschooler.”

Estrada said the reasoning for not divulging the home-school link was that it might confuse Congressional staffers since health care “is not a home-school issue.”

Others lobbying over pieces of the massive health care measure include Abilene, Texas, which was drawn to the issue because of its efforts to attract biotechnology firms. The city is backing reform provisions that would give brand-name drug firms at least 12 years to exclusively market biologic drugs before generic companies can enter. Biotechnology firms have said they need that period to recoup their investment.

While Richard Burdine, the assistant city manager for economic development, conceded his West Texas city was not a big voice in the Congressional health care debate, he said, “you can’t win if you don’t enter. We need to participate.”

Proposed mandates that individuals buy health insurance and that employees provide it have prompted a number of businesses and groups such as the American Farm Bureau to get involved.

Pat Wolff, a health care specialist with the American Farm Bureau, said farmers “are scared to death that coverage would be mandated.”

Wolff said farmers have some allies in the Senate, including pivotal moderate Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who chairs the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.

The League of American Orchestras is interested in health care because it wants to make sure that nonprofits get the same tax credits and subsidies that are provided for their for profit counterparts.

“Musicians and artists are part of the workforce just as other employers are,” said Heather Noonan, vice president of advocacy for the musicians’ group.

Meanwhile, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe of Colorado has employed a lobbyist to push for inclusion of the reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act as part of the comprehensive health care legislation.

“IHCIA has not been reauthorized for more than a decade, and this seems like the only vehicle if it is to happen this year,” said Christine Arbogast, vice president of Kogovsek & Associates, the Colorado firm hired by the tribe.

Arbogast added that her firm’s contacts have largely been limited to Colorado’s Congressional delegation. “I am frankly delighted that but for this narrow focus, we do not have a dog in this fight!” she wrote in an e-mail.

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