Lobbyists either helped draft or made extensive revisions to opinion columns published by three state lawmakers in a way that warned against the dangers of Medicare for All and other government involvement in health care, according to e-mails obtained by The Washington Post.
Montana Democratic state Representative Kathy Kelker and Democratic state Senator Jen Gross acknowledged in interviews that editorials they published separately about the single-payer health proposal included language provided by John MacDonald, a lobbyist and consultant in the state who disclosed in private e-mails that he worked for an unnamed client.
Gross said MacDonald contacted her on behalf of the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, a multimillion-dollar industry group founded in 2018 and funded by hospitals, private insurers, drug companies, and other private health-care firms.
Additionally, an aide to Ohio Republican state Senator Steve Huffman confirmed in a brief interview that the lawmaker’s op-ed criticizing Medicare for All was written with the help of Kathleen DeLand, an Ohio-based lobbyist.
None of the lawmakers’ columns disclose that they were written with the help of a lobbyist.
The e-mails show how, even at the state and local levels, lobbyists are trying to bend public opinion away from an idea that has seized much of the debate during the current Democratic presidential primary. Two candidates, Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, have proposed a massive redesign of the health-care system that would place all Americans on a single government health insurer.
The documents were provided to The Post by the nonprofit advocacy group Medicare for All Now, which supports the single-payer system. The group obtained the documents through Freedom of Information Act requests.
The revelation comes amid a fierce debate among Democrats nationwide about the best way to address health-care concerns. Health care remains a top issue for many voters, and industry groups and moderate politicians have warned that the ideas pursued by Warren and Sanders could be viewed as too extreme and lead Democrats to lose in the 2020 election. But the ideas are also very popular among many Americans, and the health-care industry has taken notice.
The e-mails offer a glimpse into the industry mobilization against both single-payer and a ‘‘public option,’’ a government-run insurer that would compete with private plans. A change could redirect trillions of dollars in spending, with insurers, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies all directly affected.
The Partnership for America’s Health Care Future has spent more than $1 million on television advertisements since August warning against Medicare for All and other changes to the health-care system, according to Advertising Analytics, a firm that tracks TV spending. The group has recently expanded its operations to the state level, and has heavily targeted voters in early primary states and battleground states, according to Politico.
Neither of the consultants who helped write the op-eds would confirm or deny whether they had been hired by the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future.
MacDonald, asked if he works for the organization, responded over the phone by saying: ‘‘Not directly. . . . I probably need to talk to some other folks before I provide any details to you and see if I can have somebody call you back.’’ MacDonald said in a subsequent interview that he could not provide additional information about his clients.
DeLand’s e-mails to the Ohio lawmaker’s staff include the acronym for the group in the subject line: ‘‘PAHCF op-ed - OH - Huffman.docx.’’ DeLand did not return requests for comment about whether she had been hired by the group.
A spokesman for the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future declined to confirm or deny whether the group had hired MacDonald or DeLand. In e-mails to reporters, the partnership linked to op-eds written by these state lawmakers, at one point citing them as evidence that ‘‘voices throughout the nation’’ oppose Medicare for All.
‘‘It’s no surprise that elected officials on both sides of the aisle, and many other voices throughout the nation, are expressing serious concerns about these one-size-fits-all proposals’’ such as Medicare for All, Lauren Crawford Shaver, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.
Single-payer supporters say the lobbyists’ role in crafting the op-eds bolsters their argument that their opponents are parroting talking points from industry groups that profit off the current health-care system.
‘‘These secret e-mails blow open what I saw firsthand and revealed as a health insurance whistleblower: These companies and their lobbyists will stoop to whatever it takes, no matter how grotesque, to deny people the life-saving coverage they need,’’ said Wendell Potter, a former health insurance executive who is now president of Business for Medicare for All. ‘‘This is just the latest reason we need to reform this broken system where greedy corporations determine who can get medical treatment in America.’’
The e-mails raise troubling ethical implications about the undisclosed involvement of private interests in lawmakers’ public statements, said Larry Noble, who served as general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center and the Federal Election Commission.
‘‘It’s disturbing,’’ Noble said. ‘‘I think there’s a certain ethical obligation to be upfront about who wrote the editorial.’’