A funny thing is happening between the two Republicans who ran the Department of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush and did so little to expand access to health insurance: they’re now both supporting President Obama’s health care exchanges — the new market places that will allow Americans to easily compare and purchase health insurance in 2014.
Bush’s first HHS chief — former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson — has written an editorial for the Huffington Post urging Republican governors to adopt exchanges, and Mike Leavitt, his successor under the Bush administration, recently told Kaiser Health News that “even if the courts or Republicans succeed at unraveling the law, companies and states are likely to keep moving ahead with exchanges.”
So what’s driving this new-found love for what some have described as the most important part of Obamacare? Well as KHN notes, Leavitt’s consulting firm, Leavitt Partners, is heavily invested in the law’s exchanges. It “has been advising companies and state legislatures on how to create exchanges” and even hired two former government officials who helped build the Utah exchange soon after the federal health law passed.” Thompson’s connection is less direct, but as a partner for Akin/Gump, he “focuses on developing solutions for clients in the health care industry, as well as for companies doing business in the public sector.” His clients potentially include America’s Health Insurance Plans — the powerful health insurance lobby — Aetna, and other sectors of the health care industry that may stand to benefit from the very exchange structure he’s advocating.
As Politico’s Sarah Kliff notes, “for health consultants and information technology vendors, it’s already shaping up to be a gold mine“:
State health exchange planning documents obtained by POLITICO read like a who’s who of top health consulting firms, with contracts awarded to health vendors large and small. Between Indiana and Washington state — two of the three states that have received grants to establish exchanges so far — Deloitte Consulting, Mathematica Policy Research, Wakely Consulting Group and Milliman all have received exchange-related federal dollars….
“It’s a tremendous opportunity,” said Steven Auerbach, president of the health IT company Connextions, which has added more than 2,000 jobs this month alone as it gears up to compete for both private and state exchange business.
The Department of Health and Human Services is expected to release its exchange regulations sometime around July 7, prompting what will likely be a great scramble of consultants, vendors, and lobbyists all trying to help states comply with (or in some cases change) the new rules.