Health care bill’s passage ups ante for industry lobbying 

When President Barack Obama signed the Senate health care bill Tuesday, the mood among beat reporters resembled the last day of finals in college — pride in the long, hard hours they had put in; wonder about what they would do next; and relief that, finally, it was over.

But on K Street and in the business world, folks knew better. It’s not over. Far from it. Health care reform means it’s always Christmas on K Street.

If you think Pfizer, General Electric and the American Medical Association do a lot of lobbying now (and they do), wait until this bill’s health insurance exchanges are established and Uncle Sam starts laying the ground rules for what is and isn’t covered and subsidized.

Under Obamacare, the Office of Management and Budget, which will govern the exchanges regulating and subsidizing health insurance, will hold the purse strings of companies that make drugs, mammogram machines or MRIs.

The regulations implementing the law will not be crafted in a hermetically sealed chamber. The bureaucrats, by necessity, will take comments and suggestions from those who best understand the markets to be regulated, and that will include lobbyists from health care companies.

And then there’s Congress. What do you think the politicians mean when they call these two bills a good first step? They mean they’re coming back for more subsidies, more mandates, more taxes, more regulations.

Health care was no free-market Wild West before now. Insurers’ profits were protected by tax codes and regulations that stifled competition, drug makers wouldn’t exist without government-granted monopolies, and hospitals and doctors largely have been clients of the welfare state since Medicare and Medicaid.

But reform raises the stakes of health care lobbying. Lobbying Medicare to cover your procedure has long been the big fish. Now lobbying OMB to require coverage for your procedures is the game.

We’ve already seen this dynamic at work. The Senate’s lobby database includes more than 1,000 lobbying reports since 2004, when the GOP created the new drug entitlement, on which Medicare Part D is a listed issue.

Watch whether the companies that lobbied up for last year’s fight disarm or keep their standing armies. I think you’ll see the likes of Bob Dole and Bill Frist — the pro-reform Republicans who happened to work for health care companies — getting a lot more work.

You will also see the Democratic staffers who wrote the bill rewarded with plush lobbying gigs.

Reform spells a healthy future for K Street.

Timothy P. Carney is The Washington Examiner’s lobbying editor.

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