Friday, September 02, 2011

Smart ALEC's Strange Bedfellows

 A number of articles in the Nation, plus posts by some of our blogging colleagues discussed the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its role in policy, including health policy advocacy.  The lead article, "ALEC Exposed," in the Nation, characterized ALEC as:
a critical arm of the right-wing network of policy shops that, with infusions of corporate cash, has evolved to shape American politics. Inspired by Milton Friedman’s call for conservatives to 'develop alternatives to existing policies [and] keep them alive and available,' ALEC’s model legislation reflects long-term goals: downsizing government, removing regulations on corporations and making it harder to hold the economically and politically powerful to account. Corporate donors retain veto power over the language, which is developed by the secretive task forces. The task forces cover issues from education to health policy.
ALEC and Health Care Reform
Wendell Potter contributed an article about ALEC's position on health care reform. First,
ALEC crafted the Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act, which, despite its Orwellian name, was written to deny the citizens of any state that passed it the freedom to set up such a system. By declaring that Congressional attempts to regulate health insurance at the federal level would be unconstitutional, it would effectively ban not only a federal single-payer proposal but also a federally created health insurance exchange and a federally operated public insurance option.

adopted a strategy to shape rather than stop reform. Its top five goals became:

§ Keeping single-payer proposals off the table;

§ Ensuring that the final bill contain a clause requiring all Americans not eligible for an existing federal program to buy coverage from a private insurance company; [note that thus the "mandate" that pseudo-conservative groups like the Tea Party hate seems to have been pushed by big commercial insurance firms, and by some of the Tea Party's backers, not by the "big government" the Tea Party also loves to hate]

§ Preventing the new law from establishing a government-run plan (the 'public option') that would compete with private insurers;

§ Making sure that the reform law is implemented primarily at the state level, to keep the federal government from assuming any significant new oversight of private insurers’ business practices; and

§ Keeping any new regulations and consumer protections to a minimum.

Insurers achieved their first four goals, with ALEC playing a key role in a well-coordinated effort to keep the most progressive proposals from being enacted at the state or federal level.
Corporate Funders and Influencers
The articles in the Nation suggest that ALEC's health policy advocacy is shaped only by commercial health care insurance. However, it appears that ALEC is supported by a much broader spectrum of health care corporations and other corporations whose products affect health care. It's "Private Enterprise Board" includes Mrs Sandra Oliver, First Vice Chairman, Bayer Corp; Mr John Del Giorno, Second Vice Chairman, GlaxoSmithKline; Mr David Powers, Treasurer, Reynolds American; and Board Members Mr Don Bohn, Johnson and Johnson, Mr Jeffrey Bond, PhRMA, and Mr Michael Hubert, Pfizer.

A PRWatch special report on its funding noted:
98% of ALEC's funding comes from corporations like Exxon Mobil, corporate 'foundations' like the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, or trade associations like the pharmaceutical industry's PhRMA and sources other than 'legislative dues.'

In more detail,
Other current ALEC corporate leaders have given an undisclosed sum to ALEC this year and before.

These companies include: CenterPoint 360 (a firm that helps companies 'manage legislation'), Altria (formerly Phillip Morris tobacco), the American Bail Coalition (the trade group for for-profit bail bonds), AT&T, Bayer (aspirin), Coca-Cola, Diageo (Crown Royal and other liquor), Energy Future Holdings (Texas electricity), ExxonMobil, GlaxoSmithKline (Tums and other brands), Intuit (Quickbooks), Johnson & Johnson (lotion), Koch Industries (Georgia Pacific paper products and other brands), Kraft Food (Macaroni and Cheese dinners), Peabody Energy (the largest private coal company in the world), Pfizer (Viagra), PhRMA (the pharmaceutical trade group), Reed Elsevier (Lexis/Nexis legal research), Reynolds American (tobacco), Salt River Project (energy), State Farm Insurance, United Parcel Service, and Wal-Mart (world's largest retailer).

So ALEC supporters include some very strange bed fellows.

Commercial Insurance in Bed with Pharma
ALEC has championed health care positions that seem designed to favor commercial health insurance.  However, it is supported by many corporations with which commercial health insurance ostensibly negotiates at arms length, and whose prices commercial health insurance ostensibly wants to lower.  These include pharmaceutical companies, Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline, and Pfizer, and pharmaceutical/ biotechnology/ device conglomerate Johnson and Johnson, all represented by PhRMA. 

It is very curious, to say the least, that such companies are helping to fund a set of policy objectives all designed to further the interests of commercial insurance companies as listed above.  Perhaps the leaders of drug companies think that commercial insurers are likely to be easier negotiators than would be some future hypothetical "public option," (government run insurance company).  Perhaps the leaders of commercial insurance companies realize that they can more plausibly raise their administrative costs, and the amounts they pay to top executives, when overall health care costs, fueled by pharmaceutical and device prices, are rising.

A UK Company in Bed with American State Legislators

ALEC is supposed to be directed at American state legislatures, and be a membership organization for American state legislators.  It literally includes a graphic of a waving American flag on its home page.  However, it is supported by at least one foreign (UK) pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline. 

It is very curious that a British company seems to be seeking to influence the US state legislative process. The appropriateness, and the legality of a British company seeking to influence American state legislatures I leave to be judged by others. 

Pharmaceutical Companies (Including Those that Make Smoking Cessation Products) in Bed with Tobacco Companies

ALEC is supported by pharmaceutical companies that all promise to improve health care.  These particularly include those that make or sell products that are designed to improve health by aiding smoking cessation, (GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson and Johnson, and Pfizer).  However,by their side stand two tobacco companies, Reynolds America and Altria, whose products the pharmaceutical companies' products are designed to counter. 

It is very, very curious that smoking cessation product manufacturers would team up with tobacco companies.  Perhaps cynics among the leadership of the drug companies realize that the market for smoking cessation products increases with tobacco sales.  Perhaps cynics among the leadership of tobacco companies think that the knowledge that there are treatments, albeit not very effective ones, to aid in smoking cessation may encourage people to start or continue smoking (an interesting but rarely discussed example of the "moral hazard" that free market economists love to otherwise discuss).  


So in my humble opinion, the strange bedfellows among health care related corporations funding ALEC suggest 1) how little the health care system functions like anything resembling an ideal free market; and 2) how top organizational leaders may have feel they have more in common with each other than they do with their more lowly employees, customers, clients, and the public at large.

True health care reform would require decreasing the size and power of large health care organizations, and ensuring that their leaders put their mission, and their patients' and the public's health ahead of their personal enrichment.

Hat tip to Naomi Freundlich's post on the Health Beat blog.


Anonymous said...

I think the connection from insurers and providers/parha is obvious. Insurers take a cut off the top, so if the pie gets bigger (i.e. healthcare costs go up) then the insurers make more money.

Panic Attack said...

It is very strange and I appreciate your bring this kind of information to everyone's attention. It is odd that a smoke cessation product would tie up with a tobacco company. Strange bedfellows indeed.