* Healthcare industry wants no taxes on devices, insurance
* Employers look for escape from employee coverage mandate
* Non-binding Senate vote seeks repeal of medical devices
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON, March 24 Eight months before
President Barack Obama's health care law goes prime time, a
confederation of industry and business groups is ramping up its
lobbying apparatus for an 11th-hour assault on the web of new
taxes and regulations.
Medical device makers, health insurers, retailers and
restaurants are waging what lobbyists call a coordinated effort
to gain Senate Democratic support for overturning $130 billion
in taxes that will be used to fund the new law, and repealing a
mandate requiring employers to provide insurance coverage for
full-time workers or pay a fine.
The campaign is backed by two of the business world's
lobbying powerhouses: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the
National Federation of Independent Business, or NFIB. The latter
had a leading role in 2012's failed attempt to overturn the
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in the Supreme Court.
Known as Obamacare, the 2010 law will bring sweeping change
to the $2.8 trillion U.S. health care industry starting Jan. 1,
2014, including bringing health insurance to millions more
But with Congress mired in partisan gridlock, lobbyists are
gearing up for a battle against the law's costs that is likely
to intensify as lawmakers shift attention to the 2014
congressional elections and the campaign donations they may
"It's going to be a difficult uphill battle. This is the
administration's signature law. We've got a split Congress. But
there's an opportunity to make fixes. And if you can garner
bipartisan support in the Senate, and find a way that the
changes get paid for, I think it can get done," said Amanda
Austin, NFIB's federal public policy director.
At issue are a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices valued at
$30 billion over the next 10 years, a $100 billion health
insurance premium tax and the employer mandate, which opponents
say could cripple many small business with costly fines.
The critics used Saturday, the third anniversary of the
passage of ACA, to warn that the provisions could undercut
economic growth, sap technical innovation and raise costs for
Medicare beneficiaries and other consumers.
America's Health Insurance Plans, a Washington-based trade
group, told lawmakers that the premium tax, combined with a
proposed cut in government payments to Medicare Advantage plans,
could raise premiums for elderly and disabled beneficiaries by
$50 to $90 a month.
Many small businesses have joined robo-call and email
campaigns aimed at lawmakers, and grassroots supporters have
begun visiting district offices. Lawmakers who oppose the health
care law have joined industry letter-writing campaigns aimed at
the White House.
"The (insurance) plans really haven't mounted a lobbying
effort like this against any of provision of the ACA in a long
time," said CRT Capital Group analyst Sheryl Skolnick.
Efforts to overturn or defund sections of the law have been
regularly embraced by the Republican-controlled House of
Representatives, which has held largely symbolic votes to repeal
Obamacare more than 30 times.
But last week's budget vote in the Senate, and the potential
for broad tax reform down the road, raised industry hopes of
gaining the Democratic support needed to actually pass
legislation. That task could become harder once the law is fully
implemented - hence the current sense of urgency.
Neil Trautwein of the National Retail Federation said the
focus is no longer on repealing the entire law: "We'll support
particular rifle-shot bills as more of a focus on knocking out
bad provisions or fixing ones that are less than artful."
Medical device makers on Thursday won a victory of sorts in
the Senate, when more than 30 Democrats joined Republicans to
approve a non-binding budget amendment calling for repeal of a
2.3 percent tax on medical device companies.
The device tax faces a difficult road to repeal. Similar
amendments to overturn the health insurance tax and the employer
mandate failed to reach a vote or win Democratic co-sponsors.
But ever-hopeful lobbyists say those issues are drawing
heightened interest from Democratic lawmakers.
"There seems to be an increasing level of sympathy and
interest at looking at what can be done to mitigate the
damages," said Katie Mahoney, executive director of health care
policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Industry representatives declare that they are prepared to
continue the legislative fight for years. Separately, health
care lobbyists are pressing at the agency level to pare back
burdensome regulations through the rules-making process.
The health care industry has spent more than $700 million to
lobby Congress and U.S. agencies from 2010 onward, according to
the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Companies,
executives and employees have poured millions more into the
coffers of House and Senate members up for re-election in 2014.
Some experts called Thursday's bipartisan Senate vote on the
medical devices tax a show of support for large campaign donors
with major operations in states like Minnesota, Massachusetts,
Indiana and Pennsylvania.
"This idea that we should make stuff in this country, that
we should invent things, that we should export to the world -
that is how we're going to get out the current situation we're
in," Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat who favored the
medical device tax repeal, said during the floor debate.
Klobuchar in 2011 invited the chief executive of
Minnesota-based Medtronic, the world's largest stand-alone
medical device maker, to the annual State of the Union address.
Medtronic spent over $22 million on lobbying between 2008 and
2012, according to the Senate Office of Public Records.
Some experts say the chances are slim for meaningful change
to the health care law.
"They certainly can't get past the presidential veto, even
if they were to get through the Senate," said John Rother,
president of the National Coalition on Health Care, which
represents medical societies, businesses, unions and health
"This is chest-pounding for the benefit of the
constituency. It's a way to get people riled up and write
checks. And if you're a lobbyist, it's a way to show you're on
the job," said Rother.