Blue Dogs’ Bark Cheers Health Care Associations

Posted May 12, 2009 at 6:15pm

Drugmakers, insurers and other stakeholders in the nation’s health care system breathed a collective sigh of relief on Tuesday, as the fiscally moderate bloc of House Democrats demanded to be included in a major rewrite of existing laws.

Lobbyists called the Blue Dogs’ May 8 letter to three key House chairmen, in which they outlined their desire to take part in the bill drafting process, a “shot across the bow— of the Democratic left, which supports a pricey government-run insurance component that has conservative party members worried about the price tag.

“Blue Dogs as a group want to see a thoughtful, moderate process and don’t want to see a big, massive government plan,— one Democratic lobbyist said. “They’re frustrated that there’s drafting going on and, in the end, they’ll have a bill shoved down their throat.—

The Democratic lobbyist also said “the voice that the Blue Dogs— bring to the table “will be more friendly— to insurers, drug companies, hospitals and other private-sector interests that pledged on Monday to trim $2 trillion-plus in medical costs during the next decade.

“There is a philosophical, market-based alignment between the Blue Dogs and industry,— the lobbyist said.

In their letter, 45 members of the Blue Dog Coalition told House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) that they had a “number of thoughts and concerns— on both the substance and financing of this legislation.

“We encourage you to begin a dialogue with us to exchange ideas and to open up your deliberations to the diverse membership of your committees in advance of beginning the process of drafting legislation,— they wrote in their letter.

Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, agreed with Blue Dogs and other moderate Democrats that any eventual House bill should not be hatched behind closed doors.

“We believe that health care reform needs to be comprehensive and it needs to be an open process,— Zirkelbach wrote in an e-mail. “There’s a recognition among stakeholders and policymakers that we need to control rising health care costs in order to reform the health care system. That’s exactly what the Blue Dogs have been saying.—

President Barack Obama wrote to the heads of five health care groups — the Advanced Medical Technology Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association — and the Service Employees International Union on Tuesday saying that he expects them “to update my administration by early June on the process you have made toward fulfilling this important commitment.—

On Monday, the six groups promised to cut at least $2 trillion in unnecessary spending over the next decade.

“Getting spiraling health care costs under control is essential to providing all Americans with affordable, quality care, making our business more competitive and closing our budget deficits — so I will hold you to your pledge to get this done,— Obama wrote.

On Tuesday, the Blue Dogs also put forth their own health care blueprint, a set of principles intended to promote bipartisanship and fiscal responsibility.

The Blue Dogs’ new plan, however, does not include a government-run insurance component demanded by many left-of-center Democrats. Without it, liberals argue, coverage would not be universal. Conservatives and health care industry officials counter that it could sabotage the private insurance business altogether.

In a statement, Blue Dogs said fiscal considerations should be front-and-center in the ongoing health care debate.

“We cannot get our nation’s fiscal house back in order or have long-term economic prosperity until we contain the skyrocketing costs of health care,— Blue Dog Rep. Mike Ross (Ark.) said. “Forty percent of every tax dollar paid today goes to fund Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security; by 2040, that number will reach 100 percent if we do nothing.

“As we move forward, moderate voices should have a key role in this debate and we must never lose sight of how these reforms will impact small businesses and working families across this country,— he added.

Meanwhile, health care lobbyists yesterday applauded Senate leaders, particularly Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), for soliciting the concerns of private industry — something many don’t believe will be the case in the House.

“The Senate committees have at least optically let in the stakeholders and that has not happened at the House level,— said a Democratic lobbyist, adding that there’s “a realization across the sectors that we’re not going to have our day in court— in the House.

“They’re really not all that interested in what we have to say,— the lobbyist said.