Posted on September 25, 2009

Wellpoint "really did" write the Baucus health plan


Three articles on the connection between Sen. Max Baucus and three current and former Wellpoint executives/lobbyists, Liz Fowler, Stephen Northrup, and Michelle Easton.

The Max Baucus WellPoint/Liz Fowler Plan

By: emptywheel
Tuesday September 8, 2009

All this time I’ve been calling Max Tax health care Max Baucus’ health care plan.

But, as William Ockham points out, it’s actually Liz Fowler’s health care plan (if you open the document and look under document properties, it lists her as author). At one level, it’s not surprising that Bad Max’s Senior Counsel would have authored the Max Tax plan. Here’s how Politico described her role in Bad Max’s health care plan earlier this year:

If you drew an organizational chart of major players in the Senate health care negotiations, Fowler would be the chief operating officer.

As a senior aide to Baucus, she directs the Finance Committee health care staff, enforces deadlines on drafting bill language and coordinates with the White House and other lawmakers. She also troubleshoots, identifying policy and political problems before they ripen.

“My job is to get from point A to point B,” said Fowler, who’s training for four triathlons this summer in between her long days on Capitol Hill.

Fowler learned as a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania that the United States was the only industrialized country without universal health care, and she decided then to dedicate her professional life to the work.

She first worked for Baucus from 2001 through 2005, playing a key role in negotiating the Medicare Part D prescription drug program. Feeling burned out, she left for the private sector but rejoined Baucus in 2008, sensing that a Democratic-controlled Congress would make progress on overhauling the health care system.

Baucus and Fowler spent a year putting the senator in a position to pursue reform, including holding hearings last summer and issuing a white paper in November. They deliberately avoided releasing legislation in order to send a signal of openness and avoid early attacks.

“People know when Liz is speaking, she is speaking for Baucus,” said Dean Rosen, the health policy adviser to former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

What neither Politico nor Bad Max himself want you to know, though, is that in the two years before she came back to the Senate to help Max craft the Max Tax plan, she worked as VP for Public Policy and External Affairs at WellPoint.

So to the extent that Liz Fowler is the Author of this document, we might as well consider WellPoint its author as well.

Chief health aide to Baucus is former Wellpoint executive

By Kevin Connor
Eyes on the Ties Blog
Sep 01, 2009 at 09:32 EST

Senator Max Baucus’s chief health adviser, Elizabeth Fowler, has been called the “chief operating officer” of the healthcare reform process by Politico — the staffer who sets legislative deadlines, coordinates with the White House on policy, and is understood to speak for Baucus on health policy issues. Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein has called her the most influential health staffer in the Senate.

Fowler, as it turns out, is also fresh off a lucrative stint working for the insurance industry: from 2006 to 2008, she was VP of public policy for Wellpoint, the insurance giant.

That’s right, an insurance industry hack is the quiet name directing the healthcare reform process on Capitol Hill.

It gets worse. Baucus’s chief health advisor prior to Fowler, Michelle Easton, currently lobbies for Wellpoint as a principal at Tarplin, Downs, & Young.

Fowler worked for Baucus as chief health aide from 2001 to 2005, as well. The revolving door is spinning so fast, in this particular case, that it’s hard to tell whether Baucus prefers hiring directly from Wellpoint, or vice versa (or maybe they use the same headhunter?).

These ties were uncovered through our project with citizen journalists at the Huffington Post Investigative, which aimed to track down Congressional staffers-turned-healthcare lobbyists. We’re in the process of wrapping up the project, which so far has identified 450 staffers-turned-lobbyists. Analyst @sundin was the first to notice Easton’s trips from Capitol Hill to K Street and back.

Klein and the Politico both failed to mention Fowler’s insurance industry ties, while hailing her as an important figure in the healthcare reform process. The Politico mentioned her time in the private sector without getting into specifics, and Klein called her hiring by Baucus reason for hope, without mentioning where she was hired from.

Whatever the reason for the omissions, it’s a good illustration of why LittleSis matters, and why research projects like this one will play an important role in the emerging news ecosystem.

We’ll have more on the dynamic duo at the Baucus-Wellpoint nexus, and potential policy implications, over the next week.

Wellpoint lobbyist & ex-Enzi staffer wrote key parts of Baucus plan

By Kevin Connor
Eyes on the Ties Blog
Sep 11, 2009 at 10:32 EST

Still more evidence that Wellpoint wrote the Baucus plan: the insurance company’s lobbying efforts in DC are headed up by Senator Mike Enzi’s former chief health adviser at Senate HELP, Stephen Northrup. Enzi is a member of Baucus’s so-called “Gang of Six” shaping the bipartisan compromise bill.

In fact, key provisions in the Baucus plan apparently draw on industry-inspired legislation first introduced by Enzi in 2006, while Northrup was still his chief health aide.

Consumer Watchdog first called attention to the similarities, particularly with respect to a part of the plan that would help insurance companies avoid state regulation:

The plan would result in a “race to the bottom” in health care regulation by allowing insurance companies that participate in “health care compacts” to choose the weakest state law to govern all their policies, regardless of which state the policies are sold in. Currently, insurance companies must abide by the state laws of any state where they sell insurance. The Baucus plan resembles an industry proposal carried by Mike Enzi (R-WY) in 2006 discussed below.

So this bill really did get written by insurance industry VPs — past and present. Liz Fowler, the current Baucus staffer who wrote the plan, was a Wellpoint executive last year. And Northrup, the former Enzi staffer who wrote the original iteration of this bill, is now on the Wellpoint payroll.

Northrup, who is on the growing LittleSis list of Congressional staffers-turned-healthcare lobbyists, was Enzi’s chief health aide from 2003 to 2006. He joined Wellpoint as vice president of federal affairs in Washington in 2007, and is “responsible for leading WellPoint’s advocacy efforts before Congress and various federal government agencies,” according to Modern Healthcare.

Northrup had been through the revolving door before, joining Enzi’s staff after serving as executive director of the Long Term Care Pharmacy Alliance — just in time to help craft Part D, the Medicare reform widely considered a giveaway to pharmaceutical interests.

Even the trigger-shy White House has spoken out against Enzi, who has established himself as the most recalcitrant member of the Gang of Six (with Grassley a close second). There has been some question about whether the group would hold together, given the pair’s apparent unwillingness to compromise. But again and again, the gang has stuck together. On Wednesday, MSNBC reported that Grassley and Enzi were still at table.