Health Insurance Industry’s Strategic Bribery

In Scarface Tony Montana expresses his view that “In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power.” And of course there’s something to that. But as Ryan Powers demonstrates with this chart, it also works to get the power first. Then when you get the power, you get the money:


The business of influence and access peddling in Washington is often thinly veiled in pseudo-respectable claims that industry groups donate to candidates who they believe are predisposed to agree with their public policy priorities. But I think it is more accurate to say that industries donate to individuals who they perceive as predisposed to being bought. Indeed, if the health insurance industry really based its contribution decisions on who they thought would be more likely sympathize with their desire to keep the health care system as it is, they would do well to always direct a majority of their cash to GOP candidates. But they don’t. […]

This is hardly a novel point on my part. But I think it’s important to keep in mind as we watch individuals who campaigned on and for the Obama agenda work to block or water down that agenda in the House. While I have not looked at the data, I expect there would be similar trends in the Senate.

Right on. This is why the very same members likely to be concerned that expanding coverage to the poor is too expensive also tend to be the same members who oppose saving money through the introduction of a robust public option embedded in a strong health insurance exchange. There are some visions of “health care reform” that are compatible with the interests of insurers, and the job of on-the-take Democrats is to try to steer legislation into that harbor.

Meanwhile on another level this kind of dynamic just embeds large advantages for incumbent candidates. A public financing scheme would be good for the country and good for progressive politics, but not necessarily good for potentially vulnerable left-of-center incumbent elected officials, so it’s hard to get anyone jazzed about the idea.