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Agents and Brokers Lead Insurance Campaign Donors, Turn to GOP

BESTWIRE

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Driven by opposition to the health reform law and Democrats who supported it groups representing agents and brokers have taken a leading role among political donors from the insurance sector.

Of the 10 largest contributors to federal candidates in the 2011-2012 election cycle, five represent large numbers of agents and brokers, according to the latest data from the independent Center for Responsive Politics. Combined, organizations including the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America and the National Association of Health Underwriters have delivered nearly $1.2 million through their federal registered political action committees.

Some 114 PACs from throughout the insurance sector have given out $5.6 million as of Aug. 31, more than 14 months before the 2012 elections, according to the nonpartisan center. The data does not include individual contributions or direct spending by corporations. Industrywide, the donations are heavily skewed toward the GOP, with 62% of PAC dollars going to Republicans and 38% to Democrats.

"At the end of the day, we support members who support us," said Nathan Riedel, vice president of political affairs for the Big I and treasurer of its PAC. "We've found more sympathetic ears on one side of the aisle."

The Big I, the second-largest insurance sector political contributor, has given 73% of its federal donations this cycle to Republican candidates. For the 2010 midterm elections, 70% of its $1.1 million in contributions went to Republicans, a 10% swing from 2008.

While the Affordable Care Act passed Congress in March 2010, the debate is far from over. The Obama administration is rolling out regulations to implement the law and mostly Republican lawmakers are continuing efforts to repeal portions of the law.

For agents and brokers, the top issue before Congress is legislation to exempt them from medical loss ratio calculations, or repeal the MLR provision entirely. They cite data showing declines in producer compensation as insurance carriers seek to cut administrative expenses; agent and broker pay is currently considered an administrative expense (Best's News Service, Sept. 16, 2011).

"Brokers saw the direct impact of health care legislation on the work they do for their clients," said Joel Wood, senior vice president of government affairs for the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers.

The CIAB has traditionally been happy to have its concerns not be strictly represented along party lines, Wood said. However, the health reform debate changed that, he said. While the CIAB's 2010 contributions broke down nearly 50/50, its 2011-2012 giving to date is 59% to Republicans and 41% to Democrats, according to the center.

The type of activism members of Congress respect best "is when people get out their checkbooks and write a check," Wood said. "In our view, the money follows the votes and not the other way around."

Campaign donors are respecting the role of Republicans as "wholly owned subsidiaries" of the insurance industry, said Ethan Rome, executive director of Health Care for America Now. "It's the Republicans who want to take $2 billion in consumer rebates and give them to the insurance industry," he said.

The MLR requirement mandates that 80% of revenues generated by individual and small group health insurance premiums go to medical care activities. For large group plans, the standard is 85%. Beginning in 2012, insurance companies will have to pay a rebate to policyholders if they fail to meet those requirements.

"Insurance companies, and the agents and brokers who sell their products, are on a spending spree in Congress because they want to eliminate a key consumer protection in the health reform law that requires insurance companies to eliminate excessive overhead and profits," said Carmen Balber, Washington director for Consumer Watchdog.

"Our support in the political process has been and continues to be aimed at members and candidates who are dedicated to the right kind of health system reform, and are sympathetic to ensuring that private health insurance remains an affordable and accessible option for all Americans," NAHU said in a statement.

(By Sean P. Carr, Washington Bureau Manager: sean.carr@ambest.com)