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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Following The Money: Oregon Health Reform Senator’s Industry Ties

Posted by Matt Davis on Tue, Jun 16, 2009 at 4:16 PM

Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden has been stepping up his health reform battle with President Barack Obama over the last week [“Why Not, Wyden?” news, June 11]. Wyden’s chief of staff, Josh Kardon, defended Wyden’s independence on Democratic blog Blue Oregon last Saturday, June 13, when he wrote that Senators Ted Kennedy, Chris Dodd and Charles Schumer—who all support President Obama’s national public health insurance option—"have taken far more money from the insurance industry than Senator Wyden."

But while Wyden may have taken less total dollars from those industries he’s also a smaller fish swimming in a bigger pond. Wyden in fact relies more heavily on the health industry as a proportion of his total donations: The American Hospital Association, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and the American Healthcare Association are among Wyden’s top 20 career contributors, according to campaign contribution website Opensecrets.org. Only Senator Kennedy can claim Blue Cross/Blue Shield as one of his top 20 career contributors, while none of the top 20 contributors for Senators Dodd and Schumer have a stake in the healthcare debate.

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WYDEN VS.OBAMA: WHY IS THE OREGON SENATOR RESISTING THE PRESIDENT'S PLAN FOR A NATIONAL PUBLIC HEALTH INSURANCE OPTION?

Illustration by Zack Soto...

Kardon has also claimed on Blue Oregon that the American Health Insurance Partnership, the trade association for health insurers, has “attacked the Wyden health proposal since 2007.” Meanwhile AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach has a different perspective. "We have not been attacking anybody's proposals," he says. "We believe in the need to have a comprehensive dialog on healthcare reform and Senator Wyden is one of the first people talking about that. We applaud his effort."

AHIP’s only significant beef with Wyden’s plan is its goal of eliminating a tax deduction for employer health coverage, according to Zirkelbach—hardly a war on Wyden’s proposal.

"While those senators who actively support a national public option have accepted more in contributions from the insurance and health industries, your criticism is premised on the fact that Senator Wyden didn't raise as much money as other senators from other monied sources, such as the securities industry, investment firms and law firms,” Kardon responds.

“While I agree that the whole system of campaign finance stinks, I believe Senator Kennedy and Senator Dodd have reached independent conclusions on health reform, just as Senator Wyden has,” Kardon continues. “Senator Wyden will continue to be open to a national public option as long as it is accompanied by real reform and is responsibly and sustainably financed."

Meanwhile, Wyden's fellow Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley called on the public to voice their support for the President's national public health insurance option this morning. President Obama called directly for donations to get the effort passed, too.

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