Politico lets Gingrich attack public health insurance plan without disclosing financial ties to insurance companies

Politico quoted Newt Gingrich's criticisms of including a public health insurance plan option in a health care reform proposal without noting his financial ties to several major health insurance companies.

In an April 14 article, Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown reported that Newt Gingrich -- identified as “the former Republican House Speaker from Georgia and founder of the Center for Health Transformation" -- “argues that government intervention in the financial and auto industries will sour voters on a deep reach into health care.” Budoff Brown went on to quote Gingrich's criticisms of the inclusion of a public insurance plan option in a health care reform proposal, including his remark: “There is always interest in it in general -- until you start describing it, then it collapses.” But Budoff Brown did not note that the Center for Health Transformation is a for-profit entity that receives annual membership fees from several major health insurance companies, which have a direct interest in whether a public insurance plan is part of health care reform. Moreover, Gingrich himself reportedly profits from his involvement in the Center for Health Transformation. Indeed, the group's website notes that "[t]he Center for Health Transformation and The Gingrich Group are corporate for-profit organizations not affiliated with any other corporation or organization" [emphasis added].

According to the Center for Health Transformation's website, members pay tiered annual membership fees, providing varying degrees of "[a]ccess to Newt Gingrich on your company's strategy," among other benefits. Insurance groups UnitedHealth Group, the parent of UnitedHealthcare, and WellPoint Inc. are listed as “Charter” members, BlueCross BlueShield Association is listed as a “Platinum” member, and AHIP is listed as a “Premier” member.

Additionally, Gingrich has reportedly profited from his work with the Center. In a January 16, 2005, article, The New York Times described Gingrich as “a well-paid broker of ideas and influence in the field of health care policy” and reported that "[b]ase camp for Mr. Gingrich's health policy work is his Center for Health Transformation, a for-profit organization that occupies new office space overlooking K Street, the main street for Washington lobbyists." The Times also reported that the center's members “pay yearly fees of up to $200,000.” Further, The Washington Post reported in a July 13, 2004, article (accessed via Nexis) that according to Gingrich aide Rick Tyler, the center's for-profit status -- as opposed to being a registered as a nonprofit lobbying group -- enabled Gingrich to operate " 'under the radar.' " The article further quoted “former adviser Rich Galen” saying of Gingrich: “He's making more money than he ever thought possible and doesn't have to tell everybody where it's coming from.”

From the Post article (accessed via Nexis):

Gingrich's center is a “brilliantly packaged way of offering his services as former speaker and a man who can open doors to push along what he calls health transformation,” said Joseph Antos, a health policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute. “In other words, lobbying.”

Gingrich is not a registered lobbyist. The think tank is for-profit, he said, because “you get more drive and energy” from employees when money is at stake and “I believe in entrepreneurship.”

Aide Rick Tyler, however, acknowledged there were political reasons for diverging from the standard nonprofit lobby group model.

Having been formally reprimanded by the House in 1997 for violations associated with the political use of tax-exempt organizations -- which were structured similarly to the new center -- Gingrich decided that a nonprofit would have invited enormous scrutiny. Organizing as a for-profit company, however, permits him to operate “under the radar,” Tyler said.

“He's making more money than he ever thought possible and doesn't have to tell everybody where it's coming from,” marveled former adviser Rich Galen. “He has the amount of influence he chooses to have. I suspect there is virtually no one in this town of either party who will not take a call from Newt Gingrich, if only to hear what he has to say.”