Sept. 23, 2009
By Kate Ackley
Roll Call Staff
The line to get into the Senate Finance Committee’s much-anticipated health care markup snaked through the hallway of the Hart Senate Office Building on Tuesday. Representatives of a wide array of lobbying organizations filed in to hastily scribble notes that they could send to their clients.
But with much of the day focused on opening statements, many of K Street’s big-shot contract lobbyists were nowhere in sight — they wouldn’t show up until later in the day or even later in the week when the committee plans to dig into the business of amendments that could tip the balance of the bill for or against their clients.
Many of the people filling the seats, in addition to a huge press contingent, were in-house advocates, mid-level and junior lobbyists at firms and even some interns. Groups and companies that were represented included America’s Health Insurance Plans, pharmaceutical firms Merck and Amgen, and insurers United HealthCare and WellPoint, as well as the National Association of Children’s Hospitals and the National Community Pharmacists Association, according to K Street sources at the markup.
“I’m not a big fan of investing an entire day,” said one prominent Democratic lobbyist who showed up Tuesday morning and promptly returned to his downtown office. “It’s such a frenzy to see and be seen, and I appreciate the value of that, but if you’re actually counted on for doing work, you need to be in a place where you can be following things. I feel trapped on the inside, and I can only do so much on the BlackBerry.”
Two lobbyists who spent the morning inside the markup said at midday that they planned to return to their offices to watch the rest on C-SPAN.
“I learned more in the cab ride back to the office, listening to C-SPAN radio,” said one lobbyist. “There’s a myth that you have to be there, to be part of the scene.”
The scene did attract a large contingent of outside-the-Beltway advocates, including several American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network volunteers who happened to be in town for the group’s lobby day.
T.J. Ryan of Idaho Falls, Idaho, and a handful of her fellow volunteers waited in line outside the markup, hoping to get a firsthand look at the action.
“I was just really interested to see what was going on,” said Ryan, whose grandmother is a cancer survivor. Her group supports more affordable health care, greater access for patients and “administrative ease” in the system, she said, ticking off the lobby day talking points before having to ditch the line for a meeting on the House side.
Austin, Texas, lobbyist Jim Arnold of Arnold Public Affairs was in town to monitor the markup for many of his clients, including the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Goodwill and hospitals.
“I’m getting caught up on what’s going on and what proposals are being offered,” said Arnold, who briefly shook hands with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) as the Senator headed for the markup. “My clients have concerns about patient access, insurance coverage and concerns with pre-existing conditions.”
Anne Cassity, a senior director of government affairs with the community pharmacists group, spent much of the afternoon waiting to see if the Senators would get to the business of amendments. (They did not.) Her organization supports one amendment, proposed by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), which would force pharmacy benefit managers to disclose more information about their business practices.
“We’re really excited about that,” Cassity said. “Already six or seven Members have talked about the importance of transparency in the health care system, so we think this PBM transparency amendment fits right in.”
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