THE BLOG
09/19/2014 11:35 am ET Updated Nov 19, 2014

"Do-Nothing" Congress Getting Ready to "Do-Something" for Big Insurance

The 113th Congress is coming to a close with its reputation for doing nothing largely intact. The major "accomplishment" in the House was its repeated votes to repeal Obamacare, including the shutdown last year. There are problems with Obamacare that need to be fixed. But, Congress won't do anything along those lines -- unless major insurance companies flex their muscle.

The Expatriate Health Coverage Clarification Act of 2014, H.R. 4414, is a classic example of that. This legislation bill will benefit basically two insurance companies: Cigna and MetLife. And, it's been getting an inordinate amount of attention on Capitol Hill. It did not pass in the House once on April 9, 2014. When the Cigna/MetLife bill failed, several Democratic members explained why:

"'This bill contains too many loopholes that amount to an extraordinary bailout for insurance companies,' Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) said on the House floor.

'This is a bill for an insurance company that is threatening to fire people in the district ... in Delaware and a little small part of California,' [Rep. Henry] Waxman said, referring to the districts of the two sponsors and the insurance company Cigna."

In this Congress, it's rare enough for a bill to pass. But, it's even more rare for a bill that failed to be revived after its defeat. But, in this case, it was. The House eventually passed H.R. 4414 on April 29, 2014:

"The measure, which passed 268-150, is aimed at helping U.S. insurance companies like Cigna and MetLife that are at a competitive disadvantage with foreign firms that do not have to comply with ACA requirements such as free preventive care and a ban on lifetime coverage limits. Sixty Democrats joined most Republicans in voting 'yes,' while 17 Republicans opposed the legislation."

In May, Professor Sonya Schwartz from Georgetown provided an analysis of the bill passed by the House:

"The National Immigration Law Center has said that the Expatriate Health Coverage Clarification Act of 2014 (H. R. 4414 as amended or "EHCCA"), which passed the House last week, is 'like using a bat to swat a fly.' I agree that this analogy fits. The EHCCA professes to fix a problem with health coverage for a relatively small group of American workers who work oversees. But, instead it creates significant loopholes that allow employers and health plans to skirt around fees and provide second-class coverage to a much larger group of people."

You may wonder, how do two insurance companies have so much pull that they can get Democrats and Republicans to do their bidding. For one, they're pumping a lot of money into this effort. We took a look at their lobbying disclosure forms. For the first two quarters (January 1-June 30) in 2014, Cigna has spent $2,500,000 in lobbying Congress and MetLife has spent $2,900,000. That's a total of $5,400,000 in lobbying fees for just the first half of 2014 alone. And, this bill is one of their key issues.

Those two insurance corporations have also been busy doling out campaign contributions. Through the latest FEC filings ending in August, MetLife's PAC has given $461,000 for the 2013-14 cycle in contributions to federal candidates with 44% going to Democrats and 55% to Republicans. CIGNA's PAC has given $221,499 for the 2013-14 cycle thus far with 45% to Democrats and 55% to Republicans. That's $682,499 combined from their two PACs this cycle.

Between their lobbying and political contributions, we're up to over $6,000,000.

They got not one, but two House votes. Now, this special interest legislation is headed to the United States Senate where Delaware's two Senators are working hard to give Cigna and MetLife another win. We keep hearing that there will be "compromises" to the House version, but, we're not buying it.

The bill is pretty much the same. The same problems exist with the legislation. Cigna and MetLife want the legislation and that's what's important. Besides the money it's spent lobbying and on campaigns, Cigna has reportedly attempted a little corporate bullying, threatening to fire workers and close offices in Delaware and California if they don't get this fix. A lot of organizations, including ours, want fixes to Obamacare. But, we're not threatening to fire people if we don't get our way. Is this the type of behavior Congress should be rewarding? Apparently so.

This is really an extraordinary effort to appease just two companies, CIGNA and MetLife.

Last spring, when the House passed this bill, I said, "It would be nice if Congress found the time to help middle class workers and immigrants alike who are going to suffer the consequences of the ACA rather than help big insurance companies such as Cigna."

That still applies.