Obama Aides Helped Plan Ads to Back Health Bill, GOP Says

House Republicans say a drugmaker-funded advertising campaign run by supposedly independent groups was part of an agreement with the Obama administration to help pass the U.S. health-care law in 2010.

Republicans are using e-mails and memos to agitate against the overhaul ahead of a U.S. Supreme Court decision on the law’s constitutionality, due later this month. The correspondence involved White House aides, drugmaker lobbyists and Democratic strategists as they built support for the law.

The documents, released on May 31 and yesterday, suggest presidential aides helped plan a $150 million advertising campaign paid for by the drug industry. The advertisers were seemingly independent groups created by the lobbyists in consultation with strategists linked to the administration, the memos suggest. The organizations were called Healthy Economy Now and Americans for Stable Quality Care.

The memos “show that the White House traded billions of dollars in policy concessions to PhRMA for millions of dollars worth of advertising,” said House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio. PhRMA is the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the industry’s Washington lobby group.

The accusations are “baseless” and “politically driven,” wrote Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman, in an e-mail. “Republicans, who previously admitted this is not serious and merely a partisan effort to distract the President’s re-election campaign, are now attempting to recycle an old story that was well covered during the original debate.”

Importation Issue

The drug industry agreed to $80 billion to $125 billion in taxes, discounts and other concessions to help fund the health law’s programs during the run-up to approval in March 2010. They avoided potentially harmful policies, including one that would have allowed importation of cheaper brand-name drugs, an issue PhRMA lobbyists discussed at length with the Administration, according to the memos released last month.

At a news conference yesterday in Washington, Boehner called the groups created by the lobbyists to run the ad campaign “a Super PAC paid for by PhRMA, and run by Jim Messina out of the West Wing of the White House.

‘‘This is wrong and the administration must be held accountable for their actions,’’ Boehner said.

At the time of the e-mails, Messina was an aide to then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. He now manages Obama’s re-election campaign. The health-care law was passed without a single Republican vote.

‘Financial Support’

According to documents released last month, PhRMA agreed to help back at least three different advertising and advocacy groups that pushed for health-care reform. A PhRMA memo released yesterday described the group called Health Economy Now, and said that under an agreement ‘‘the industry provides the majority of financial support for positive TV ads advocating passage of health reform.’’

Representative Joe Pitts, a Republican from Pennsylvania who sits on the committee, said the Obama administration was hypocritical for using the outside groups to help back the law.

‘‘The president has publicly condemned corporations funding advertisements through ‘innocuous-sounding’ third party groups, but he was more than happy to privately cut a deal with big drug companies to help push his health care bill,’’ Pitts said.

Republicans have also benefited from spending by outside groups on the law. While the Obama administration was working to arrange industry backing, health insurers opposed to the overhaul secretly funneled $86.2 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to run ads attacking the law and its supporters.

Investigation Focus

Bloomberg News reported in May that House Republicans planned to focus their investigation, begun last year, on the drug industry and its dealings with Democrats. The latest documents support a campaign linking the administration to a ‘‘secret deal’’ with the industry, Pitts said in a statement.

The documents include references to actions by drug industry lobbyists, former pharmaceutical chief executive officers including Jeffrey Kindler of New York-based Pfizer Inc. and David Brennan of London-based AstraZeneca Plc, and top White House staff.

In the documents released today, Democratic consultants working with the White House asked to meet supporters of the law ‘‘to discuss our ad campaign,’’ Ron Pollack, executive director of the Washington-based consumer group Families USA, said in a June 2009 e-mail to PhRMA lobbyists.

‘‘As I mentioned previously, I wanted to get some guidance from the White House about their messaging and how our effort can be consistent with that,’’ Pollack wrote.

‘Potential Problem’

That appearance of a deal concerned drug industry lobbyists and communications strategists in 2009, as the law was being debated, according to the memos. In July of that year, Bloomberg News was preparing to run a story outlining the link between the Democrat-run firms and the industry, causing Ken Johnson, a PhRMA spokesman, to e-mail the group on a ‘‘potential problem.’’

‘‘Bloomberg is getting ready to report that ‘political consultants’ close to the White House -- more specifically close to Rahm Emanuel -- will be running our $100 million-plus campaign,’’ Johnson wrote to the lobbyists.

The Republicans on the committee have said they’re pursuing whether Democrats were promised political support from drugmakers in exchange for limiting what the industry would be asked to contribute under the health-care overhaul, Bloomberg News reported last month, citing people familiar with the talks who asked not to be identified because they were private.

Matt Bennett, a PhRMA spokesman, said his group did nothing wrong.

‘‘Before, during, and after the health-care debate, PhRMA engaged in policy discussions,’’ he said in a telephone interview. ‘‘I can’t speak to the actions or decisions made by anyone in the White House.’’

Obama’s $1 trillion, 10-year law to overhaul the health system expands expanding insurance coverage to most Americans. It has been challenged as unconstitutional by 26 states, and the Supreme Court is slated to rule on the issue by the end of June.

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