Health insurers' political contributions may be stalling the single-payer movement

Though public and political support for a single-payer healthcare system seems to be growing, few can say that it’s very close to becoming a policy reality.

One of the reasons for that disconnect, according to a new analysis from the Center for Responsive Politics, is the influence that the health insurance industry wields over elected officials.

To prove its case, the organization examined the contributions that health insurance companies made to leadership PACs and campaign committees of Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate.

In the House, almost two-thirds of the Democratic caucus has cosponsored the Expanded & Improved Medicare for All Act. But House Democrats who did no cosponsor the bill received 137% more money, on average, from health insurance companies during the 2016 cycle than those who have.

A similar trend can be seen in the Senate, where more than a third of Democrats have cosponsored Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All Act. Democratic senators who did no cosponsor the bill received 146% more contributions, on average, from health insurance companies between 2011 and 2016 than those who did cosponsor it.

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The analysis also found a correlation between contributions from the pharmaceutical industry and Democratic lawmakers’ support of single-payer legislation. However, it noted that Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Joseph Crowley are outliers, as both Democrats have cosponsored single-payer proposals despite being well-funded by the pharma industry.

Other notable Democrats highlighted in the analysis include Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who led his caucus in donations from health insurance companies, and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, whose top corporate donor is Centene. Schumer hasn’t committed to supporting the Medicare-for-all bill, and McCaskill said last fall that she’s not ready to back a single-payer system.

Though health insurers appear to be successfully discouraging a move to a single-payer system, there have been reasons to question whether their lobbying influence is as strong as it once was. Three of the country’s largest insurers have left the industry’s chief trade group—America’s Health Insurance Plans—and the Trump administration has largely ignored insurers’ advice against repealing the Affordable Care Act.

On the other hand, recent Medicare Advantage policy proposals have been well-received by the industry, and some insurers have benefited handsomely from the GOP’s new tax law.