In the third quarter of this year, as the Democratic leaders of Congress were scrambling to decide what to keep in President Biden’s reconciliation package and what to cut, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer accepted a $66,000 bundle of campaign contributions from the head of the health insurance industry’s top lobbying group.
The bundle of checks, collected and given to Schumer’s campaign by Matt Eyles, the president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), was disclosed in a lobbyist bundling reportSchumer submitted the Federal Election Commission with a report covering July through September. The report doesn’t indicate when Eyles gave the bundled contributions to Schumer.
A review of FEC filings shows that Eyles’ Q3 bundle is the first time he or any other AHIP lobbyist has bundled donations for Schumer. It was the largest, in dollar amounts, that Schumer had received since 2016. Campaigns are required to disclose bundled contributions when they are received by them, electronically or physically, by lobbyists, or PACs that were created by lobbyists.
Eyles’ organization is the health insurance industry’s largest lobbying group, with annual expenditures of around $60 million per year. AHIP was a top-tier lobbying group in the third quarter. disclosed lobbyingThe Senate and House have met to discuss the Build back Better Act and other issues. Its members are Humana, Aetna and Cigna.
One of the group’s goals for the Build Back Better Act has been to block a proposal from the Biden White House to add dental, vision, and hearing benefits to Medicare. Most Medicare Advantage plans, such as those offered by Cigna and Aetna, include dental, hearing, and vision benefits, so adding these coverages under traditional Medicare would be a hit to the insurance companies’ competitive advantage against the government. According to Politico, insurance companies were “freaking out” over Biden’s proposal for dental, vision, and hearing Medicare coverage, but they kept it mainly behind the scenes since it would be bad optics to be seen as opposing better health coverage for seniors.
The pared-down version of the bill that emerged from the Democratic leaders’ negotiations and was put on the House floor does not include dental or vision coverage for Medicare patients. Only hearing survived the three areas of health coverage that the insurance industry tried to kill.
Dental and vision coverage could be added back to the bill in the Senate — and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has said on Twitter that they will be in the Senate version — but Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), a critical swing vote, says he opposes the coverages because he is worried about the program’s solvency.
According to a survey, 47 percent of Medicare beneficiaries didn’t have dental coverage in 2019. reportKaiser Family Foundation. Without routine dental care, many oral health issues go untreated until people are in extreme pain and must pay out of pocket for expensive treatment. In some cases, senior’s oral health issues can lead to fatal infections, while in many cases they have to take antibiotics that damage their intestinal microbiome and therefore weaken their immune systems.
Asked for comment on the $66,000 bundle of donations from the AHIP lobbyist, a Schumer spokesperson told Sludge that the senator “is one of the Senate’s biggest advocates for Medicare expansion and has been doing everything he can to pass the most robust legislation possible.”
Schumer’s campaign received many more health insurance industry donations in the third quarter besides the AHIP bundle. AHIP’s PAC gave him the legal maximum of $5,000 on Sept. 30, and health insurance company donations that appear in his quarterly disclosure include those from PACs affiliated with Humana ($5,000), Cigna ($1,500), Molina Healthcare ($5,000), MVP Health Care ($2,500), and more. Many other insurance executives donated money to Senator Kennedy, including $20,300 from UnitedHealth Group executives such as John Rex (executive vice president and chief finance officer) and Catherine Anderson (senior vice president of strategy and policy).
Also in Schumer’s third quarter lobbyist bundling report are bundles of $37,200 from the PAC of American Health Care Association, a nursing home group, and $46,200 from the American Council Of Life Insurers PAC, a trade association whose hundreds of member companies represent 95% of industry assets. In 2022, Schumer will be up for reelection.
The House of Representatives approved the Build Back better Act on November 19. It was sent to the Senate where it could be voted on according to budget reconciliation rules. This rule does not allow its critics to filibuster. To satisfy the wishes of conservative Democratic senators, which will require their votes in the 50-50 split Senate. If the bill is passed and changed, it will be ping-ponged back into the House for another vote.