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Washington's revolving door: Ex-ObamaCare official to lead insurance lobby firm

07/15/2015

America's Health Insurance Plans, a trade association that lobbies on behalf of insurance companies in Washington and in state legislatures, announced on Wednesday that Marilyn Tavenner, the former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), will serve as its president and chief operating officer. Tavenner oversaw the disastrous implementation of ObamaCare during her tenure, which, some suspect, ultimately led in her resignation from CMS in January.

"There is no better individual than Marilyn to lead our industry through the increasingly complex health care transformation that is underway," Mark Ganz, chairman of the America's Health Insurance Plans, said in a press release. "As the unifying voice for our industry, AHIP and its members are uniquely positioned to address the pressing healthcare challenges facing consumers, and Marilyn is a recognized leader who brings the experience, tenacity, and dedication to achieve our advocacy goals and to move the health system forward in a way that is patient-centered."

America's Health Insurance Plans criticized the Obama administration when it shifted policies to address public outrage. In late 2013, when millions of health plans were canceled despite President Obama's unrealistic promise that Americans would be able to keep their coverage, the administration announced a fix that would allow state insurance commissioners to continue those policies. America's Health Insurance Plans warned that "[c]hanging the rules after health plans have already met the requirements of the law could destabilize the market and result in higher premiums for consumers." The firm also opposed any changes to ObamaCare's insurance company bailout program.

Interestingly, Ganz said that Tavenner "has the respect and trust of policymakers and stakeholders from all sides." That may be a stretch. CMS wrote many of the regulations for the law, include those that led to the cancellation of health insurance plans, and was behind much of the implementation of ObamaCare leading up to the first open enrollment period, which began in October 2013. The initial rollout of the federal Exchange was nothing short of a disaster. HealthCare.gov, the website on which consumers could purchase coverage, was plagued with glitches and bugs that made enrolling a long and grueling experience.

Tavenner, who reportedly resorted to temper tantrums and threatened to resign if the launch of the website was delayed, and other administration officials were criticized for ignoring warnings that the system was not ready to launch and would result in a bad experience for consumers. She appeared in House and Senate committee hearings to answer for the botched rollout.

"To the millions of Americans who’ve attempted to use HealthCare.gov to shop and enroll in healthcare coverage, I want to apologize to you that the website has not worked as well as it should," Tavenner said in a contentious October 2013 House Ways and Means Committee hearing. "We know how desperately you need affordable coverage."

The hiring of Tavenner comes at a curious time. Health insurance companies are seeking rather large premium increases, due, in part, to the lack of younger and healthier enrollees to offset the older and sicker consumers in risk pools. President Barack Obama has encouraged consumers to pressure state insurance commissioners to reject large premium hikes requested by insurers.

Tavenner's hiring also shows the revolving door in Washington. Often, members of Congress, not long after they leave office, and seasoned congressional staffers head to prominent Washington lobbying firms, which tend to pay much better than a government salary.

The same is true of formerly high-ranking bureaucrats, even someone, like Tavenner, who had a controversial and tumultuous tenure. With Tavenner's connections to the administration and experience with healthcare regulations, America's Health Insurance Plans will be in a good place to lobby effectively for crony laws and regulations to benefit health insurers that supported the passage of ObamaCare. Americans who will bear the costs of bailouts, regulations, and other crony policies, however, will be left out in the cold.