By Josh Finkelstein for Open Secrets.
NOTE: Open Secrets is an excellent resource for finding out what industries and who is backing your members of Congress. This information may be helpful as you plan your campaign to pressure your legislator to support National Improved Medicare for All. – MF
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont hosted a town hall recently to discuss the Medicare for All Act, during which he emphasized a conflict of interest around involving the private sector in healthcare.
“Right now, we have a healthcare system that is not designed to provide quality care to all people in a cost effective way,” Sanders said at the town hall. “Let us be frank, we have a healthcare system designed to make enormous profits for insurance companies and drug companies. And disease prevention is not very high on their lists.”
Sanders isn’t alone in his sentiment. A number of polls last year (see here, here, and here) indicate that a growing plurality of Americans support switching to a single-payer healthcare system, including a substantial majority of Democrats.
A single-payer system would change the current healthcare system by using taxes to expand Medicare coverage to all Americans, allowing anyone to access free care whenever they need it.
However, Congress may be slow to respond to the growing interest in the healthcare model found in Canada and across much of Western Europe. The influence-wielding of insurance and pharmaceutical companies appears to be a barrier preventing Congress from embracing single-payer.
A Center for Responsive Politics analysis found a correlation between congressional Democrats’ support for single-payer proposals and contributions received from the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries.
One-third of Senate Democrats have cosponsored the Medicare for All Act, which Sanders introduced in September. Democrats who haven’t cosponsored the bill received 146 percent more money on average from health insurance companies between 2011 and 2016 than those who have ($147,186 to $59,789) and 60 percent more from pharma ($252,369 to $157,768).
Total Contributions to Senate Democrats (Health Insurance and Pharmaceuticals)
Total amount shown includes donations to leadership PACs and campaign committees. Totals cover 2011-2016.
In the House, the Expanded & Improved Medicare for All Act received a larger proportion of Democratic support, with almost two-thirds cosponsoring the bill. House Democrats who haven’t cosponsored the bill received 137 percent more money on average from health insurance companies during the 2016 cycle than those who have ($27,529 to $11,618) and 77 percent more from pharma ($44,190 to $25,022).
Total Contributions to House Democrats (Health Insurance and Pharmaceuticals)
Total amount shown includes donations to leadership PACs and campaign committees. Totals cover 2015-2016.
Unsurprisingly, party leaders received the most contributions from the health industry in both houses.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-Ny.) led his caucus in donations from health insurance companies and ranks third in donations from pharmaceutical companies between 2011 and 2016. Schumer has not committed to supporting the bill.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) received the most donations from health insurance companies and second most from pharma in his caucus between 2015 and 2016 and does not support single-payer.
Nevertheless, some Democrats have chosen to defy the interests of their large donors, such as Sen. Cory Booker (D-Nj.) and House Caucus Chair Joseph Crowley(D-Ny.). Booker and Crowley are respectively the sixth and ninth most well-funded by pharma in their caucus but have cosponsored single-payer proposals.
Both industries that stand to lose from a government-run healthcare system gave record contributions to Democrats in the 2016 cycle and continue to support Senate Democrats in 2018. Notably, Pfizer donated $15,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee shortly after 16 senators simultaneously backed single-payer, signalling an effort to influence the party.
Meanwhile, health insurer Centene, which donated around $1 million last cycle, is currently the top corporate donor of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). McCaskill told Politico last fall that she is not ready to support single-payer, but is being challenged by a primary opponent who does.
Congressional Democrats’ ties to the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries have long been tight. Former Democratic House Speaker Dick Gephardt of Missouri owns the lobbying firm Gephardt Group, which has lobbied on behalf of such clients as UnitedHealth Group and Bayer, its highest-paying client last year.
Gephardt was asked by The Intercept for his thoughts on the prospect of a single-payer system.
“Not in my lifetime,” he replied.