In the case of establishment democrats, I’m sorry to be right about them every damn time.
They’re lying en masse again.
Hawaii’s 1st District seat, which was vacated by incumbent Democratic Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who is running for governor, has attracted six serious candidates to the Democratic primary in this reliably blue district. According to documents obtained by The Intercept, at least three of the candidates took time out from their schedules to talk to a consultant dispatched by the Healthcare Leadership Council, a lobbying group that seeks to advance the goals of the largest players in the private health care industry.
Now, the 1st District candidates working with the Healthcare Leadership Council — former state Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, Hawaii Lt. Gov. Doug Chin, and Honolulu City Council Member Ernest Martin — are taking heat from their opponents for talking to an industry-friendly group, even as public opinion is increasingly rallying to positions opposed by giant health care companies.
“Democrats running in a primary election will say they support ‘Medicare for All,’ but what do they say to lobbyists behind the scenes?” said Kaniela Ing, a state lawmaker vying for the 1st District seat on a democratic socialist platform, warning of Democrats who make progressive promises when campaigning, but then work hand in hand with industries when in office. “We need health care champions, not puppets.”
One of the leading candidates has campaigned on a promise to crack down on over-priced pharmaceuticals and promote single payer health care, but told the consultant dispatched by the Healthcare Leadership Council that he would maintain drug industry-friendly pricing policies and views Medicare for All with skepticism.
The Healthcare Leadership Council has closely tracked what its lobbyists have described as the “leftward movement” within the Democratic Party. In Hawaii and other states, the lobby group wanted to know if ideas popularized by Sen., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. — such as aggressive proposals to reduce the cost of pharmaceuticals and institute a single-payer health care system modeled on Medicare — were taking hold.
The council, which spends over $5 million a year on industry advocacy and brings together chief executives of major health corporations, represents an array of health industries, including insurers, hospitals, drugmakers, medical device manufacturers, pharmacies, health product distributors, and information technology companies.
The group’s focus on competitive open seats around the country — like Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District — is aimed at shaping the next generation of lawmakers’ views on health care policy.
Healthcare Leadership Council Dossiers for Hawaii's 1st Congressional District Candidates
THE HEALTHCARE LEADERSHIP Council’s outreach in Hawaii began in January. In an email obtained by The Intercept, the group told candidates that it was in the process of forming a coalition to “jointly develop policies, plans, and programs to achieve their vision of a 21st century system that makes affordable, high-quality care accessible to all Americans” — language that obscured its national campaign to monitor and blunt the energy behind progressive health policy reforms. The email included an invitation for the candidates to take a meeting in Honolulu.
Kim, Chin, and Martin agreed to speak to the Healthcare Leadership Council, which then drew up dossiers on each candidate based on their answers to the survey questions. The dossiers, which were obtained by The Intercept and Documented, profiled each of the candidates, including their photos, biographical sketches, contact information for their campaigns, and a checklist for determining their positions on certain issues of importance to the Healthcare Leadership Council. (Kim and Martin’s campaigns did not respond to a request for comment for this story.)
In an email to The Intercept, Michael Freeman, executive vice president of the Healthcare Leadership Council, said that his organization surveys “congressional candidates every election cycle regarding their views on a wide range of healthcare issues.”
The dossiers offer the candidates’ general outlook on health care policy issues, as well as their answers on specific policy positions. Of Kim, the former state senator, the group’s profile says, “She is very pro-market, opposes any attempt at single payer, does not support price controls on pharmaceuticals and agrees that Medicaid and Medicare need to be managed by the private market.”
Chin is a “moderate Democrat that has represented healthcare providers in Med-mal lawsuits,” said the Healthcare Leadership Council’s profile. Chin, the survey noted, “supports the market concept advocated by HLC and does not think a single payer/Medicare-for-All approach would work in Hawaii.”
“Martin supports a majority of HLC’s positions,” the profile on the Honolulu City Council member says. “He does not want single payer.” But, the dossier noted, Martin needed better education on health policy.
In some cases, what the candidates told the lobbyist appeared to differ from what they told voters.
Chin indicated to the Healthcare Leadership Council that he supports its position that the “best way to achieve the lowest prices for Medicare beneficiaries in the Medicare Part D program is through the current process of private sector negotiation,” according to his dossier.
As it stands now, the Medicare law, authored under the influence of the drug lobby, prevents the agency from using its collective bargaining power to negotiate lower prices for pharmaceuticals as part a benefit program known as Part D. Progressive health care activists have agitated for the government to become directly involved in negotiations. Public Citizen, a watchdog group, claims that allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower-priced drugs could save $15 billion per year from the program’s budget.
Drug industry groups like the Healthcare Leadership Council — which is funded by pharma giants Amgen, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Pfizer, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, and Bristol-Myers Squibb — have opposed the negotiation route.
Chin’s claim, according to the Healthcare Leadership Council documents, that he supports the industry-friendly status quo contrasts sharply with what he has said in public. In July, he told local news website Civil Beat that he supports “steps like empowering the federal government to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries.” (Civil Beat and The Intercept’s publisher, First Look Media, were founded by Pierre Omidyar.)
In response to a request for comment from The Intercept, Chin stuck with his public position that Medicare Part D should include negotiations with drugmakers over prices. “Doug Chin speaks with seniors across Hawai’i who are making heartbreaking sacrifices to buy the life-saving prescriptions and get the quality health care they need. That’s why he supports the merits of a single-payer system, and it’s why he will demand that Medicare use its existing authorities — and support giving it new powers – to negotiate better deals for seniors,” said Chin’s campaign manager, Dylan Beesley. “Doug was endorsed by End Citizens United because he is committed to getting the secret cash from big drug companies out of politics — for good.”
The campaign’s statement did not address a question from The Intercept about why the council lists Chin as supporting its position that Medicare should not negotiate directly with drug companies — or the discrepancy with his public stance.