According to The Politico, HHS is quickly becoming a campaign organization for congressional Democrats: The Obama administration Tuesday night gave more shape to its health reform selling strategy: Focus on the early roll-out of tangible benefits and, if all goes as planned, win over a skeptical public more than any argument ever could.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is leading this effort. The Cabinet officer most responsible for implementing reform, has said she expects the process to involve “hand-to-hand combat” in the roll-out of reform.
That translates into a campaign strategy of politicizing the role of HHS as the granter and enforcer of health care to demonstrate short term success in time for the election. In doing so, the Obama administration is pursuing a strategy that also solidifies its support with one of the Democrat party’s principal sources of campaign contributions: trial lawyers. Final health care reform failed to include any mention of malpractice reform and is seen by many as a potential giveaway to the personal injury bar.
Sebelius herself, a former executive director and chief lobbyist for the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association (now Kansas Association for Justice) from 1977-1986, is assembling a crack team at HHS that is stacked with personal injury lawyers and supporters. That group is led Jay Angoff.
Angoff was picked by Sebelius to head the Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at HHS which will become one of the most powerful division within the Department and, for that matter, the entire federal government. The Office will control the development and enforcement of new health care regulations and manage the new state exchanges, just to name a few powers of this super-bureaucracy.
And, what makes Angoff so qualified to exercise these vast new powers? He was a state insurance commission and, yes you guessed it, a high-profile personal injury lawyer who specialized in filing massive class action lawsuits – making himself millions while the individuals he sought to protect collected pennies on the dollar. Additionally, Angoff authored a so-called “landmark” 2005 study funded by the trial attorney trade group, the Center for Justice and Democracy, which claimed doctors were being artificially overcharged for malpractice insurance. This study was eventually discredited as being thoroughly inaccurate. However, not before enriching and elevating the profile of this now super-bureaucrat.
So, as we watch HHS roll-out the largest expansion of government power in a generation, we should keep a watchful eye on Secretary Sebelius, her team of former trail lawyer enforcers and the Department’s gamesmanship of short term “wins” that will undoubtedly provide desperately needed political points for the ruling party.
A cynical person might even suggest that HHS has become nothing more than a political arm and proof point for an embattled Democratic Party that faces a wary public and an even tougher election this fall.
Luckily, the Democrats will have their #1 special interest – the personal injury bar – at their side as they seek to curry favor with voters.
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