Retailers, Manufacturers Influence Health Care Legislation

Posted December 18, 2009 at 4:18pm

Attention holiday shoppers: If you thought you could escape key players in the health care lobbying debate by hitting the malls, you might want to reconsider.

From America’s best-known retailers to the eateries at the local food court, lobbying clients are everywhere. And they are spending millions of dollars to influence various provisions of the legislation.

As Congressional consideration of the health care overhaul has bumped into the holiday shopping season, hundreds of non-health-care-related corporations have hired lobbyists to help voice their concerns. A Roll Call analysis of Lobbying Disclosure Act reports filed recently with Congress makes clear that today’s health care debate is not just financed by the insurance, pharmaceutical and medical industries, but also by many of the stores and manufacturers that help Americans spread holiday cheer each year.

“The thing that is amazing about health care is that it affects everyone’s cost of doing business,— said Doug Pinkham, president of the Public Affairs Council. “It’s interesting that so many non-health-care companies are involved in this because they just look at the dollars at stake and they say, ‘Even though it is not up our industry’s alley, it’s an issue that is going to have a profound effect potentially on our bottom line.’—

For instance, many of the big-box stores that anchor America’s shopping malls have recently disclosed lobbying on the health care bill. Walmart surprised many when it came out in support of employee-mandated health care earlier this year. The nation’s leading private employer and retailer disclosed that it spent more than $1.6 million during the third quarter to lobby on health care issues as well as a dozen other legislative topics.

It seems as though many of America’s most-frequented stores are the last-minute shoppers of this major legislation. The Gap, for one, just registered to lobby on health care reform last month.

Home improvement superstores also are getting involved. Home Depot retained Capitol Counsel to lobby on the bill during the past three months, and Lowe’s is relying on a team of in-house lobbyists to monitor the measure. Other major stores that enlisted lobbyists to influence the bill include Target and Best Buy.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association has been lobbying heavily on the health care bill. The industry group favors greater health care initiatives but has expressed skepticism about a public health insurance option as well as employer mandates.

“Specifically, we believe that the inclusion of any public plan option, placing constraints on self-insured-plan design and a lack of recognition for the transient nature of the retail work force will increase costs for our industry by hundreds of millions of dollars, threatening employer-sponsored coverage in our industry,— said John Emling, RILA’s senior vice president of government affairs.

K Street is also collecting money from America’s manufacturers of holiday presents.

One of the hottest gifts this season will likely be the iPhone, and its maker, Apple, is invested in the health care bill. The manufacturer of the iPod Touch and Nano as well as other electronic devices is on track to spend more than $1.2 million on lobbying this year, including health care reform work. AT&T, the iPhone’s exclusive telecommunications carrier and K Street’s 15th-biggest-spending client last year, is also lobbying on the overhaul.

Other high-tech companies whose products are commonly used for stocking stuffers have logged on to the debate. Cell phone maker Motorola is lobbying the House and Senate on reform proposals as well as initiatives to expand information technology in the medical sector. Meanwhile, Texas Instruments is tag-teaming the bill between its in-house lobbying team and the recently hired firm of Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti.

For those families hoping for a new computer under the tree this year, almost every component of the device comes from some company wedged in the health care battle.

IBM and Microsoft both disclosed lobbying on the House’s health care reform measure starting in the third quarter of this year. Intel, too, has reported tackling the overhaul with the help of three firms: Capitol Hill Strategies, Franklin Square Group and Cassidy & Associates.

Even at the food court, shoppers will find health care clients.

There, Burger King, McDonald’s and Yum Brands — the parent company of Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut — have disclosed lobbying on the health care reform effort on issues ranging from food labeling to employer mandates.

Similarly, Dunkin’ Donuts is lobbying against increased taxes it feared it could have to pay to help finance health care benefits. Ditto for PepsiCo and the Coca-Cola Co., which oppose any potential new taxes on sugary beverages to help defray the price tag of reform.

Even online buyers have little escape from K Street’s influence on the health care bill. Online auctioneer eBay filed its first lobbying disclosure report listing its efforts on the House version during late October.

“We were a company that was concerned about various proposals to pay for expanded health care coverage and certainly international tax changes,— said Brian Bieron, senior director of federal government relations for eBay. But he said the company stopped lobbying on the legislation after Congress decided to fund the bill through another means.

“Once that was not included, we were no longer lobbying on the health care bill,— he said.