Senators who have refused to cosponsor bills that would reshape the nation’s ailing health care system have received an average of $14,000 to $24,000 more in campaign contributions from the nation’s biggest health-care companies than lawmakers who have signed on as sponsors of one of three major reform bills, according to a MapLight analysis.
Raising issues with a single bill is one thing, but the senators in question have refused to support not just one, but three bills aiming to fix our healthcare system. And the three bills—one that would create universal health care by offering Medicare for all, one that would offer Medicare to people older than 50, and one that would allow Americans to buy health insurance through Medicaid—have also been opposed by (yep) the health industry.
You could say that the health industry and these senators’ constituents just happen to agree on this — but statistically speaking, it’s not likely. A January Kaiser Family Foundation poll found almost 3 in 4 Americans think the government should do more to help people obtain health insurance. The typical American family pays annual premiums of $19,616 for health care — almost one-third of the median U.S. household income. One in 4 Americans reported that they didn’t seek medical treatment because of potential costs, according to a 2017 Bankrate survey.
The MapLight analysis highlights the political difficulty of reforming the health industry; the numbers paint a stark picture. The 73 senators who have declined to cosponsor even one of the three bills received a total of almost $4.3 million from the nation’s 10 largest healthcare giants between 2013 and 2018.
Raising issues with a single bill is one thing, but the senators in question have refused to support not just one, but three bills aiming to fix our healthcare system.
Earlier this year, the president of one such giant—Charles Kahn III of the Federation of American Hospitals—told the New York Times, “We have a structure that frankly works for most Americans. Let’s make it work for all Americans. We reject the notion that we need to turn the whole apple cart over and start all over again.”
His organization gave almost $1.2 million to federal campaigns in that six year period.
Medicare for All, Money for Few
The least-popular of the three bills in terms of cosponsors is also one of the most-discussed potential reforms by 2020 candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination: a universal coverage plan that would essentially guarantee coverage to every American.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who entered the race on Feb. 19, attracted only 16 cosponsors with his 2017 “Medicare for All” bill. The co-sponsors received a cumulative $678,297 — in some cases as little as the $100 reported by Sen. Jeff Merkley — during the six-year period.
Among lawmakers who haven’t signed on to any of the reform bills however, there’s Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican; he alone received $188,000 from the 10 largest health-care companies. Todd Young, R-Ind., reported getting $187,250, and Pat Casey, a Pennsylvania Republican, received more than $182,000.
For the record, a study by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University estimated that his measure would cost $32 trillion over a 10-year period; Sanders countered that that same study, which was funded by an organization supported by billionaire libertarian brothers Charles and David Koch, also reflected potential savings of $2 trillion.
Medicare at 50
The second bill in question was introduced by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat. The Stabenow bill would allow people between the ages of 50 and 64–too young to qualify under the current rules– to buy into the $583 billion Medicare program. Eleven senators have signed on as cosponsors of both the Sanders and Stabenow bill, including Sens. Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Jeff Merkley.
The Stabenow measure is similar to plans that were discussed during the 2009 debate over former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Early drafts of the act would have allowed a “public option,” or a government health insurance plan. The public option, however, was rejected by former Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat who currently works as a lobbyist for ZTE, a Chinese telecom conglomerate that’s been sanctioned by the U.S. government for violating sanctions against Iran and North Korea.
Medicaid Public Option
A more expansive proposal from Sen. Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, would allow all Americans to purchase health insurance through Medicaid, the $577 billion state-federal partnership providing health care for the poor and disabled.
Because states share the program costs with the federal government, Schatz’s proposal is the most popular of the three measures, garnering 22 cosponsors. Depending upon the generosity of legislators, Medicaid expenses make up between 13.9 percent of a state’s budget (Wyoming) and 38 percent (Missouri). Medicaid is also seen as a lower-cost alternative to Medicare; physicians receive roughly 72 percent of Medicare rates when they treat Medicaid patients, according to a 2017 Urban Institute study.
Only two senators are cosponsoring the Schatz bill and not the other two alternatives: Sens. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, and Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat. Schatz, who introduced the bill on Feb. 14 after an unsuccessful attempt to pass the legislation in 2017, is also a cosponsor of Sanders’ Medicare for All proposal.
When politicians’ actions are so out of step with public opinion, you just have to follow the money to see why. Even the sponsors of some of those bills have received relatively large chunks of cash from the health industry; Sen. Cory Booker, for example, has repeatedly come under fire for how much cash he’s accepted from the pharmaceutical industry—while fighting bills to lower drug prices.
So it’s not actually surprising that some of these bills’ supporters are also getting industry cash, albeit in paltry amounts when compared to their opponents: many of these “supporters” are the same people putting forward measures that barely scratch the surface of the problem.
This article is based off a data analysis from MapLight, a nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that reveals the influence of money in politics, informs and empowers voters, and advances reforms that promote a more responsive democracy.