Jan. 11, 2000 (Washington, D.C.) -- The primary lobbying money flowing through town was health care dollars, according to a recent analysis. Health care interests led all other categories in the first 6 months of 1999, spending more than $95 million of the nearly $698 million in total lobbying expenditures, FECInfo reported.
The data, the latest available from reports that lobbyists must make to Congress, may represent a record high for health lobbying. During the previous 6 months, health interests spent nearly $3 million less. Legislation requiring the public reporting of lobbying expenditures passed in 1995.
Of the health spending, pharmaceutical manufacturers spent almost $32 million, while physicians spent $15 million and hospitals nearly $13 million. Health insurance plans laid out $9.7 million on their lobbying.
"The first 6 months of 1999 was a huge period for the health industry, perhaps more significant than 1992-93, when the Clinton health care plan was being first debated," Holly Bailey, a spokesperson for the money-in-politics research group Center for Responsive Politics, tells WebMD.
Last year brought major debate over federal regulation of managed care plans and creating a Medicare prescription drug benefit, among other health issues.
Last year's dynamic may have guaranteed the heavy health lobbying. "The health care industry was a pretty popular topic on Capitol Hill the first half of '99," Tony Raymond, a co-founder of FECInfo, tells WebMD. "If anything, we weren't surprised" at the $95 million, he says.
But the gobs of money raise concerns nonetheless. According to Bailey, "The contribution buys access. Whenever you see so much money being spent, you have to wonder, 'Is the congressman listening more to these people that are funding their presidential campaigns than to their constituents.'"
Other experts echo the concerns about the role of money in politics. Uwe Reinhardt, PhD, a political economy professor from Princeton University, tells WebMD: "For health policy in America, the primary orientation has been the income needs of the provider groups [doctors, hospitals]. The health of the people has never been the focal point." He notes that lawmakers also may shake down monied interests to stay in office. "When you ask lobbyists privately, they say sometimes it's really that they're 'held up' for this money [by the lawmakers]. It's not money they wanted to spend," he says.
The American Medical Association's pockets were the deepest all-around -- its $8.8 million in lobbying leading all other contributors, health-related or not. The AMA spent $500,000 less during the previous 6 months.
"They [the AMA] traditionally support Republicans in terms of the issues, but when Republicans split with them on the managed care legislation, they probably had to do a lot more outreach to Democrats," Bailey tells WebMD.
The American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine was a distant second among physician groups, spending more than $1 million in the first 6 months of last year.
Locked in a battle for more generous HMO coverage of emergency room visits, the American College of Emergency Physicians spent more than $800,000, after spending a paltry $20,000 the previous 6 months.
Other heavy health hitters during the first 6 months of '99 were the American Hospital Association ($4 million), the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association ($3.2 million), and pharmaceutical companies Merck ($2.7 million) and Amgen ($2.4 million).
While the American Psychiatric Association spent $120,000, the American Psychological Association spent $270,000. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists spent $600,000; its nemesis, the American Society of Anesthesiologists, spent $860,000.
Don't expect the spending to slow down. "It's a presidential election year, and we're seeing more spending and more contributions on that level," Bailey tells WebMD.