SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The insurance industry is handing out campaign cash to Illinois lawmakers who will play pivotal roles in setting up Illinois' health-benefits exchange.
Democrats Frank Mautino and William Haine and Republicans JoAnn Osmond and Bill Brady are co-chairpersons of the study committee, which is expected to make recommendations to the General Assembly by Sept. 30 on how the exchange should be governed and funded.
According to The State Journal-Register in Springfield, the legislators have received a combined total of $70,800 from the insurance industry so far this year.
Three of the four co-chairs say contributions from the industry won't affect their decisions on the health-insurance exchange. Haine, an Alton Democrat, didn't return phone calls.
Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said Haine, as chairman of the Senate Insurance Committee, "brings a high level of expertise to the state's discussion of health-insurance implementation."
However, the Campaign for Better Health Care says it is likely the campaign contributions will cause the Illinois Health Benefits Exchange Legislative Study Committee to issue recommendations later this month that benefit the insurance industry at the expense of consumers.
"We'll see what happens," said Jim Duffett, executive director of the Champaign-based consumer organization. "I hope I eat crow on Sept. 30. I kind of doubt that I will eat crow."
Mautino noted members of the study committee were chosen by legislative leaders based on expertise in handling insurance-related issues.
The exchanges, scheduled to begin operating by 2014, are key to the success of the federal Affordable Care Act. It is expected the Illinois' exchange will assist up to one million in affording health insurance though a range of private health plans. The exchange also will qualify people for federal subsidies and route some people into the Medicaid program.
"You're setting up one of the most complex systems," Mautino said. "It can't make mistakes."
According to Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield, individuals and groups representing the insurance industry typically give $1.5 million to $2 million during the two-year election cycles. That compares to $16 million from labor unions and $6 million from lawyers.
David Morrison of the Campaign for Political Reform said it should be expected longstanding members of insurance committees in the House and Senate receive more contributions than other lawmakers.
"I wouldn't say votes are for sale," he said, but added contributions help industry representatives get "face time" with key lawmakers.
A spokeswoman for Chicago-based Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois told The State Journal-Register the company "supports political candidates, associations and organizations that share the health-care policy interests of our 12 million members."
Morrison said the choices for the exchange study committee suggest insurance-industry contributions had an influence, Morrison said.
"The way that it looks ... is terrible," he said.
Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said campaign contributions played no role in Madigan's picks.