Health Industry, Big Pharma Corporate Lobbyists, Conservative Activists Ramp Up Effort to Stop Medicare For All

Interview with Eagan Kemp, health care policy advocate with Public Citizen, conducted by Scott Harris

The Democratic party-controlled House of Representatives took its first historic step on April 30 to begin a national debate on the popular proposal to establish a Medicare-for-All universal health care system in the United States. The hearing before the House Rules Committee focused on the Medicare for All Act of 2019 bill introduced by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, which would cover all Americans’ health care needs and transition the nation to the program over the course of two years.

As Medicare For All gains momentum and support from Democratic presidential candidates, the health insurance industry, Big Pharma and conservative activist groups have ramped up their lobbying efforts to impede or defeat the measure.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Eagan Kemp, health care policy advocate with Public Citizen, who discusses his group’s recently published  report, titled, “Fever Pitch: Surge in Opposition Lobbying and Advocacy Validates the Credibility of the Medicare for All Movement,” which found that lobbying against proposed Medicare for All legislation has spiked in 2019.

EAGAN KEMP: Yes, I think this is a really significant time in our healthcare system and sort of the path forward, you know, could go in a number of different ways and these folks want to put their fingers on the scale against the interest of the American people. And just to break down the numbers a little bit, you know, in the first quarter of 2018, we found that only 29 folks were reported lobbying on Medicare for All either, for or against. But by the first quarter of 2019 it was 270, a nearly nine-fold increase. And when people, you know, individual lobbyists, report that they’re lobbying, they report on sort of whose behalf they’re lobbying – the number of groups that were working on Medicare for All increased from nine in the first quarter of 2018 to 61 in the first quarter of 2019, a nearly seven- fold increase.

And one of the things that we thought was most important to really get out there was that nine of the 10 entities – the ones that hired the most – and 9 of the 10 of that were against Medicare for All. And those groups accounted for more than half of all lobbyists working on the issue, really highlighting that the tide is turned, they’re taking this seriously. And I think that’s the important piece of this context. These groups are seeing Americans need Medicare for All, demand Medicare for All, pressure their congressmembers, pressure 2020 candidates and they know that they’ve got to start pushing back if they’re going to keep their profits because that’s what they’re worried about.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Now what about the role of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Koch brothers that is mentioned in the report or any other organizations or new coalitions that have come together to fight Medicare for All? Maybe you could tell us a bit about these groups.

EAGAN KEMP: Yeah, I mean it’s an interesting Who’s Who of who makes money off of our current system or who doesn’t want to pay more in taxes. I mean, two new coalitions have been minted, just in the last six months or so. The Coalition Against Socialized Medicine, which has a lot of, Koch-funded groups like FreedomWorks. Also ones they funded like Heritage Action and the Club for Growth, as well as ones with close ties like the American Conservative Union.

And then the other really big one is the Partnership for America’s Healthcare Future, which has an innocuous sounding name, but really should be called Partnership for Profiting Off America’s Healthcare. It includes the biotech industry, Big Pharma, for-profit insurers, and they really don’t want to have this discussion go any further. And that’s why they’re really starting to put money in.

And then you’re also seeing, you know, as you mentioned, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. I mean, the CEO recently said they’d be willing to use all of their resources to lobby against single-payer healthcare. And finally One Nation, which, you know, sounds pretty innocuous. But it’s founded by Karl Rove and they did all sorts of lobbying around when the Republicans were trying to repeal the ACA and take away Americans’ health care. Now they’re taking that new money, taking money now and putting it against single-payer healthcare so that Americans can’t get the healthcare that they need, after losing the fight to take away Americans’ healthcare.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What do we know about public opinion now. Where do Americans stand in general on the proposed Medicare for All plans that are out there in the House and Senate?

EAGAN KEMP: It’s an exciting time and we’re really seeing sort of the grassroots pressure growing for Medicare for All and the polling consistently going in our favor with majorities and sometimes, you know, as high as 70 percent of Americans, depending on the poll, expressing support for Medicare for All. And one of the things that you know, critics often say is, oh, well they don’t know what’s in it. But recent polling from Politico found that Americans do understand it better than you’d expect and that, you know, if they can keep their doctors and their hospitals, which they would be able to do under Medicare for All, the support is really there. And it’s one of those things that, you know, Americans, there’s a perception that as Americans understand that, you know, their healthcare system would change, that they would be afraid of it.

But really as Americans are hearing more about it – and, I think a big part of this is the discussion in Congress, the discussion, in the presidential debate. They’re really understanding that Medicare for All is something that’s achievable, you know, there’s over 60 countries that have some sort of universal healthcare system; they’re starting to understand that it would cost less. I mean, you just look at how much less the Medicare system costs while providing care to some folks with, you know, uh, increasing medical needs. And just how many challenges they face right now, whether it’s surprise bills, whether it’s deductbles as high as $5,000. No family can get the care they need like that. And Medicare for All addresses all of those issues at once, which is a real opportunity for improvement in our health care system.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Egan, as we conclude, what should our listeners keep in mind about the fight ahead? For those who favor Medicare for All and establishing a single-payer system like that in the country, what are some of the effective things they can do right now to both educate themselves on this topic and also to get in there to help advocate for it?

EAGAN KEMP: When we look across the country, there’s lots of groups working at the state and local level to put pressure on members of Congress – whether they’re federal officials, whether they’re state officials – to be making progress on health care and Medicare for All. Specifically also, there’s a lot of work going on on resolution campaigns. If you go to our website, www.citizen.org, there’s all sorts of great information about our resolutions campaign and all the groups that we’re working with. And I can’t emphasize it enough. It sounds simple, but vote.

And people will see that, you know, the American people are supporting a change to a healthcare system that that would benefit them and would finally mean the American people would have a right to health care as opposed to just being able to get the healthcare they can afford.

For more information on Public Citizen, visit citizen.org.

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