Trump Officials Overseeing Health Care Overhaul Previously Lobbied for Health Insurance Firms

Former health care industry lobbyists hold senior political appointments in Trump's Health and Human Services Department.

UnitedHealthcare signage is displayed outside of a store in the Queens borough of New York, U.S., on Monday, Jan. 14, 2013. The experiment to sell health insurance to consumers in retail stores by UnitedHealth Group Inc., the biggest U.S. medical insurer, is designed to help the company compete in anticipation of sweeping changes under the new health-care law. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
UnitedHealthcare signage is displayed outside of a store in the Queens borough of New York, in 2013. Photo: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The political appointees tapped by President Donald Trump to oversee federal health care programs — including the potential transition to a new Republican bill to replace the Affordable Care Act — joined the government just after working as lobbyists and attorneys for the largest health care interests in America.

Several senior Health and Human Services Administration appointees previously worked for insurers seeking to influence the consumer regulations mandated by the ACA, according to new political appointee financial disclosures obtained by The Intercept. The appointees work closely under HHS Secretary Tom Price — a former member of Congress and longtime ACA opponent who has pushed his old colleagues on the Hill to repeal the ACA.

Eric Hargan, the nominee for deputy secretary at HHS, and Paula Stannard, Price’s senior counselor, previously worked in the lobbying and government affairs departments of their respective law firms, Greenberg Traurig and Alston & Bird. Hargan and Stannard both disclosed serving health insurance giant UnitedHealth as a client.

UnitedHealth, which prompted worries about the ACA’s tenability when it exited most of the health exchanges that underpin President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform law, has lobbied the federal government on a number of issues. The group targeted its work in Washington at ACA policies dealing with mandating insurers cover a series of basic medical services known as essential health benefits; limits on how much insurance prices can differ between age groups; and the health insurance industry taxes. All these policies are in Republicans’ sights as they move to repeal Obama’s reforms.

Hargan is but one of several top HHS appointees with health insurance industry ties.

HHS Associate Deputy Secretary for Health Reform Randolph Wayne Pate previously worked as the vice president for public policy for Health Care Services Corporation, an insurance company that operates Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in five states. In recent months, Pate’s previous employer has lobbied on bills to provide waivers for health insurance companies to duck costly consumer mandates, such as prohibiting discrimination over age.

Price’s Chief of Staff Lance Leggitt listed 40 previous health care-related clients as a partner of the law firm Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz. Leggitt served as the chair of the federal health care practice of the firm, which lobbies for the insurer Aetna and the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, a trade group. Leggitt disclosed being paid $801,008 in compensation.

Keagan Lenihan, who serves as a senior counselor to Price, previously worked as a top lobbyist for McKesson Specialty Health, the largest distributor of drugs and other health care products in the country. As recently as last year, Lenihan attempted to influence lawmakers on “pharmacy reimbursement issues and implementation of the Affordable Care Act,” according to disclosures.

McKesson has faced accusations that it ignored warning signs and distributed dangerous opioids to pill mills, worsening the drug overdose crisis. In January, the firm paid a record $150 million settlement for failure to report suspicious orders of controlled substances, including oxycodone and hydrocodone pills.

The Intercept reached out to HHS for comment on the appointees’ past ties to health care industries and their lobbying, but did not receive a response.

Private health care interests, particularly health insurers, have worked closely with Republican leaders to shape the next iteration of health reform. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., attended a fundraiser hosted by health insurance lobbyists just before appearing to explain his party’s approach to repealing and replacing the ACA. The major provisions of the plan passed by House Republicans includes a major tax cut for insurers, along with an option for states to opt-out of consumer protections — proposals demanded by health insurance companies.

Top photo: UnitedHealthcare signage is displayed outside of a store in Queens, N.Y., in 2013.

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