National

Health lobbying heats up again

WASHINGTON — Interest groups have burst back into action in hopes of bolstering or defeating a new Democratic push on health-care reform legislation, sparking another wave of rallies, lobbying efforts and costly advertising campaigns.

The fresh round offers a clear signal that the industries and advocacy groups most likely to be affected view the coming weeks as the final battle in determining whether Democratic proposals become law.

Their efforts suggest a return to the frenzied pace of last year's health care debate, which prompted more than $200 million in advocacy ads and broke records for lobbying. Companies and trade groups last year hired more than 4,500 lobbyists to influence health reform — amounting to about eight lobbyists for each member of Congress, according to an analysis released last week by the Center for Public Integrity.

Reacting to President Obama's recent statements that he will move ahead with legislation, health insurance companies have enlisted hundreds of lobbyists in a full-court press against the proposed overhaul, which would force dramatic cuts and increased regulation on the industry. At the same time, insurers are pushing back against a separate bill approved by the House last week that would remove the industry's antitrust exemption.

The ramped-up effort is particularly evident among anti-reform advocacy organizations, many of which had optimistically halted spending after Democratic reform plans were cast into doubt by the January loss of a Senate seat in Massachusetts. The 60 Plus Association, which opposes the reform efforts, announced a $500,000 television advertising campaign last week aimed at 18 centrist House Democrats, all of whom voted in favor of reform legislation last fall but whose support is now seen as wobbly.

The National Right To Life Committee — which strongly opposes the Senate version of the health care package — has launched its own grassroots campaign to pressure dozens of anti-abortion Democrats in the House, who are crucial to passage of a final bill. Americans for Prosperity, which opposes the reform effort, also says it bought $250,000 worth of television advertising last week and is laying plans for more ads and rallies in March.

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