West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, the Republican challenger for the state’s Senate seat, has faced sharp criticism from his political opponents this year over his history as a health care industry lobbyist.
During his primary battle, several of Morrisey’s Republican opponents pointed out that he had lobbied on behalf of the same health care distributors that flooded his state with highly addictive opioid painkillers. In recent weeks, his Democratic opponent, Sen. Joe Manchin, has raised questions over Morrisey’s involvement in a lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act — an effort Manchin claims will sharply reduce coverage and allow insurance companies to return to denying care to people with pre-existing health conditions.
This week, Morrisey was scheduled to travel to Washington, D.C., for a fundraiser with health care industry lobbyists — even though his associations with those same forces have dogged his campaign.
Morrisey, for his part, seems unconcerned about the heat he’s taking. This week, according to a document obtained by The Intercept, Morrisey was scheduled to travel to Washington, D.C., for a fundraiser with health care industry lobbyists — even though his associations with those same forces have dogged his campaign.
According to an invitation to the Morrisey for Senate fundraiser, the Tuesday afternoon event was to be held at the Capitol Hill Club, a members-only dinner club near the Capitol. The invite suggested that political action committees contribute as much as $2,500 to co-host the event.
The host committee, according to the invite, would include Melissa Bartlett, a Republican health care lobbyist. Bartlett is currently registered to represent the Health Care Service Corporation, which manages health insurance plans across several states. (Health Care Service Corporation also employs Morrisey’s spouse, Denise Morrisey, through the firm Capitol Counsel, an arrangement explicitly centered on negotiations to repeal the Affordable Care Act.)
Aaron Cohen, a lobbyist at Capitol Counsel alongside Denise Morrisey, was also listed on the host committee. Cohen is registered to lobby for several health care interests, including Merck, Rite Aid, Amgen, the Healthcare Leadership Council, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the trade council representing the largest drugmakers in the country.
Another lobbyist hosting the event is Clay Alspach, a health care lobbyist who is registered to represent the Compounding Quality Coalition. The group is an affiliate of health care distribution giant AmerisourceBergen, one of the three firms largely responsible for flooding small-town pharmacy “pill mills” in West Virginia with 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills over a six-year period.
Neither Morrisey’s campaign nor the members of the host committee responded to a request for comment.
AmerisourceBergen previously employed Morrisey as a lobbyist through an affiliate known as the Healthcare Distribution Management Association. Morrisey’s contract with the group has fueled criticisms of Morrisey’s oversight of the still-unfolding opioid crisis in his state.
Last year, Morrisey announced that he had reached a settlement in a lawsuit brought by the state against AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson, the three distribution firms accused of supplying “pill mills” for years. McKesson settled for $35 million and Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen for $20 million and $16 million, respectively.
Critics charged that the settlement was a deal that sold West Virginia short, considering how the opioid industry has cost the state billions of dollars in productivity, drug treatment, and law enforcement dollars, not to mention thousands of lives lost from the epidemic. Ken Hall, an official with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, wrote that Morrisey settled for “pennies on the dollar.”
Earlier this week, a Senate Democratic organization won a key lawsuit that may force the disclosure of correspondence between Morrisey and the pharmaceutical industry prior to the settlement.
Clearly, however, fears of being labeled as too close to controversial health care industry firms did not prevent Morrisey from scheduling a fundraiser in D.C. with the industry’s paid influence peddlers.
Nick Surgey contributed reporting to this story.