Last month, a popular reform to grant the California Insurance Commission the power to review and regulate proposed insurance rate hikes died a quick death in the state Senate. Although the bill, Assemblyman Mike Feuer’s (D) AB 52, passed the Assembly and the Senate Health Committee, the legislation was pulled after intense pressure from lobbyists. The California health insurance companies, as well as other health care industries, made AB 52 a top priority for defeat.
As ThinkProgress has reported, health insurance companies have concealed their lobbying efforts by funding many of the so-called “pro-business” trade groups in California, which have in turn lobbied or released letters opposed to AB 52. But a closer look at the health insurance lobby’s disclosure reports paints an even broader picture of their influence:
— State Sen. Ed Hernandez (D), the chair of the health committee, voted for AB 52 but told the press he could not support the bill in its current form. Hernandez’s income is boosted by about $69,000 a year in payments from Kaiser Health Plans, the state’s largest insurer (and one of AB 52’s most prominent opponents) in rent at an office building owned by Hernandez. The unusual arrangement might present a serious conflict of interest, but Hernandez’s spokesman told ThinkProgress that the rent payments began shortly before Hernandez entered the legislature, and that Kaiser maintains a community outreach center in the senator’s building.
— UnitedHealth Corporation, a large for-profit insurer with a presence in the Golden State, retained five different lobbying firms this sessions: Capitol Advocacy LLC; Carter, Wetch & Associates; Fernandez Government Solutions LLC; Thomas Advancy; and Terry M. McGann Inc. From January through May, the firm spent $221,481 on lobbying just in California.
— Kaiser Health Plans, the biggest spender of all the major health insurers in California, retained the lobbying firm Carpenter Hawkins Sievers LLC during the fight against AB 52. Last year, during the attempt by oil companies like Koch and Valero to repeal California’s clean energy laws, ThinkProgress profiled Carpenter Hawkins Sievers. Notably, principles at the firm worked for over a decade for the tobacco lobby to kill laws aimed at curtailing indoor smoking, smoking in public areas, and tobacco marketing towards children. Although Kaiser has touted itself as a company that encourages well-being, it is ironic that the insurer would hire slash and burn tobacco lobbyists.
A review of disclosure reports shows Kaiser Health Plans ($4,955,503), Anthem Blue Cross ($2,522,334), UnitedHealth ($1,021,376), HealthNet ($941,489), and Blue Shield of California ($724,412) as the insurers that have spent the most on lobbying since 2009 in Sacramento. The millions dropped on lobbying, like the tens of millions insurers have allocated for lobbying in DC and state capitals across the country, are premium dollars that could have been spent on actual health care.