The short version of the story is that the insurance companies have given almost a million dollars to our lawmakers in Albany over the last few years and it has been worth every penny for them. Read this:
Ever since the release of a 2004 report by the respected Brennan Center for Justice, it has become an accepted truism that New York has the “most dysfunctional” state legislature in the nation.1 We believe the Legislature’s response to that report missed the mark,2 because it failed to address one of the central causes of that dysfunction: the influence of campaign contributions on the laws that are ultimately passed.
As an earlier campaign finance report said: “[c]ampaign money -- not votes -- is now the currency of our democracy, determining who is able to run a viable campaign for office, who usually wins, and who has the ear of elected officials.”3 This explains to us better than anything else why, despite the general agreement that we face a crisis of health insurance coverage and affordability, the Legislature has consistently been unable to pass even common-sense incremental steps to
address the health care crisis, such as reining in escalating health insurance rates and profits that gouge consumers.
This report examines the role of contributions by health insurance interests in blocking regulation of health insurance rates in the New York State Legislature, and particularly the State Senate, despite the high cost to New Yorkers of the rapid escalation of health insurance premiums. We find a strong correlation between campaign contributions and State Senate opposition to reforms that would benefit health insurance consumers, including the reinstitution of rate regulation.4 The report concludes that campaign finance reform, particularly full public funding of campaigns, is necessary to reduce the undue influence of corporate contributors on the legislative process.
New York State reduced its regulation of health insurance rates and profits in the late 1990s. Since then, health insurance rates have risen rapidly, as have insurance company profits, as summarized in section IV. In response, legislation (A.7485/S.2740) was introduced to restore significant oversight of health insurance rates and industry profits. The bill would require prior approval of rate increases by the New York State Insurance Department, public hearings for increases of greater than 5%, and greater limitations on profits. The rate regulation bill was passed by the State Assembly every year from 1998 to 2006, but never passed by the State Senate. We looked at campaign contributions by health insurance interests -- providers of health insurance and their representatives such as trade groups and PACs -- to the State Senate and the State Assembly and found that health insurance interests alone contributed $900 thousand to the State Legislature from 2003 to 2007. We also found that Senate Republicans received more than three times the campaign contributions from health insurance interests as the Assembly Democrats in the 2003 to 2007 period: $618 thousand as compared to $178 thousand.
At the same time as they were receiving the lion’s share of insurance industry contributions, former Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and his Republican colleagues failed to pass insurance rate regulation. The Senate’s failure to pass this proposal has meant that New Yorkers have had to pay large health insurance rate increases. This is a clear example of how New York State’s “pay-toplay” campaign finance system is taking money out of the pockets of New Yorkers by preventing pro-consumer legislation from passing. The investment the health insurance industry makes in campaign contributions is paid many times over in the form of higher profits. To consumers, the cost of the state’s failure to act is measured in higher rates, and in some cases, inability to afford any insurance, and poorer health outcomes.
This pattern of money and influence also demonstrates why supporters of health insurance reform cannot just work on health insurance legislation to achieve their goals. They must also address New York’s “pay-to-play” system, which one veteran Albany reporter described as a “system that allows lobbyists to buttonhole a lawmaker at the Capitol at 4:00 pm to discuss an issue, then write him a check three hours later at a fund-raiser held just across the street.”5 This system gives health insurance industry interests an unfair advantage over consumers through campaign contributions. This report therefore calls for passage of clean elections, full public financing of campaigns (“clean elections”), which would enormously help to even the power imbalance between the industry and consumers.
Want to know why our health insurance is so expensive? It is because the insurance industry has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to make sure that it stays that way. They are paying our lawmakers to stop them from doing anything about our skyrocketing health insurance premiums.
Want to know who is number two on the insurance companies money list? (Only one senator has taken more money from the insurance companies)
Kemp Hannon has taken $58,750 from the insurance companies that want to keep our premiums sky high!
Enough is ENOUGH!