In the current cycle, big health insurers have quietly donated more than $150,000 to Democrats opposed to Medicare for All legislation.
One of the internal battles raging within the Democratic Party is whether or not the party should embrace the Medicare for All bill authored by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont). Big-name Democrats with possible presidential ambitions like Senators Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), Kamala Harris (D-California), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) have co-sponsored the bill, but notably, 11 Senate Democrats up for re-election this year have not.
If passed, Sanders’ Medicare for All bill would allow Americans to have the option of buying into the Medicare program typically only available to retirees. Medicare is one of the most popular government programs, with 77 percent of Americans saying they viewed the program as “very important” in 2015. A Pew survey from June of 2017 found that 60 percent of respondents felt that providing healthcare should be the responsibility of the government.
Health insurers likely see Medicare for All threatening their bottom line in the future, and are spending large sums to keep politicians who are favorable to the private health insurance model. According to federal campaign finance records, the four leading private health insurance providers — Aetna, Anthem, Cigna, and UnitedHealth — have spent $158,000 in the 2017-2018 campaign cycle on Democrats opposed to single-payer healthcare. Here are their names, ordered by who received the most to who received the least.
1. Blue Dog PAC: $35,000
Every House Democrat is up for re-election in 2018, and the Blue Dog PAC focuses its efforts on electing conservative Democrats who are typically opposed to progressive reforms. There are currently 18 Congressional Democrats who are members of the Blue Dog caucus, though the PAC itself has endorsed 14 candidates, including recent special election winner Conor Lamb (D-Pennsylvania). In the current cycle, the Blue Dog PAC has received $10,000 from UnitedHealth, $10,000 from Aetna, $10,000 from Cigna, and $5,000 from Anthem.
2. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut): $34,000
Sen. Murphy has received more donations from the private health insurance industry than any other Senate Democrat up for re-election this year. Aetna and Cigna, who are are headquartered in Connecticut, have given Sen. Murphy a combined $18,000 in the 2017-2018 cycle. Another $13,500 in Murphy’s war chest comes from UnitedHealth, with another $2,500 from Anthem. Anthem and Cigna both gave a combined $5,500 explicitly for Murphy to use in the 2018 Connecticut Democratic Convention (the state’s equivalent of a primary) to help him fend off challengers within the party.
3. Senator Tim Kaine (D-Virginia): $20,000
Over the course of his career in the U.S. Senate, Tim Kaine has taken more than $268,000 from the insurance industry since 2011. In 2016, he ran alongside Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party’s vice presidential nominee, in which Clinton said single-payer healthcare would “never, ever come to pass” during the primary. In the 2018 cycle, Kaine has received $7,500 from UnitedHealth, $5,000 from Aetna, $5,000 from Cigna, and $2,500 from Anthem. Even though Kaine is running unopposed in the Virginia Democratic primary, Cigna and Anthem gave him $7,500 to be used for the primary.
(TIE) 4. Senator Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania): $17,500
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Sen. Casey has been the beneficiary of more than $730,000 in campaign contributions from the insurance industry since 2004. And even though more than one-third of Senate Democrats have signed on to Sanders’ Medicare for All bill, Casey was not one of them. In this current cycle, Casey has received $7,500 from Aetna, $5,000 from Cigna, $2,500 from Anthem, and $2,500 from UnitedHealth.
(TIE) 4. Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida): $17,500
While Senators Bob Casey and Bill Nelson may be tied in donations from the four largest health insurers in the 2018 campaign cycle, Sen. Nelson is the undisputed favorite of the insurance industry between the two, having received more than $1 million in donations from insurers since 1999. Since 2017, Nelson has received $7,500 from UnitedHealth, $5,000 from Anthem, and $5,000 from Cigna. Of the $10,000 from Anthem and Cigna, $4,000 of that was for Nelson to fight off progressive challengers in the Democratic primary.
6. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri): $8,000
The senior senator from Missouri is the recipient of more than $435,000 in insurance industry donations since 2005, and is an outspoken opponent of single-payer healthcare. During a town hall in 2017, Sen. McCaskill derided a potential single-payer healthcare system in the United States as “unrealistic.” Her primary opponent, Angelica Earl, is running on a universal healthcare platform. Since 2017, McCaskill has received $2,500 from Cigna, $2,500 from UnitedHealth, $2,000 from Aetna, and $1,000 from Anthem. $3,500 in donations from Anthem and Cigna were earmarked for the Democratic primary.
7. Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia): $6,500
Despite only running for his second re-election, Sen. Manchin has already racked up more than $300,000 in campaign contributions from insurers. Manchin was also one of six Democrats who voted to confirm price-gouging pharma executive Alex Azar to be the next Secretary of Health and Human Services. Of the $6,500 Manchin has received in the 2017-2018 cycle, $4,000 from Anthem was donated for the sole purpose of helping Manchin win the primary (the other $2,500 is from UnitedHealth). Manchin is trying to defeat progressive challenger Paula Jean Swearengin, who has raised more than $144,000 on her own through grassroots contributions.
8. Senator Tom Carper (D-Delaware): $5,000
Since his Congressional career began in 1989, Tom Carper has received over $1 million from insurance companies, ranking them #2 on his list of biggest donors by industry. The $5,000 he’s received from health insurers in this cycle came in the form of two $2,500 donations from Cigna. Carper was also one of the few Senate Democrats who voted for Alex Azar’s confirmation as HHS secretary.
9. Senator Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana): $5,000
Sen. Donnelly is running for his first re-election to the U.S. Senate, though he’s been filing federal campaign finance reports since 2003. Throughout his campaigns, Donnelly has benefited from more than $474,000 in insurance company donations. Anthem, which is headquartered in Indianapolis, donated $5,000 to Donnelly in the current campaign cycle. Along with Sens. Manchin and Carper, Donnelly also voted for Alex Azar’s confirmation.
10. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan): $3,500
Even though she ranks low on this list, Stabenow is a heavy hitter in terms of insurance donations, bringing in more than $825,000 from the industry since her Congressional career began in 1995. While Sen. Stabenow didn’t cosponsor Sanders’ Medicare for All bill, she has pushed legislation that would lower the Medicare eligibility age to 55. Since 2017, Stabenow has received $2,000 from Aetna and $1,500 from Cigna.
11. Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana): $3,500
Insurance companies have donated more than $675,000 to Sen. Tester’s campaigns since 2005. However, Tester is perhaps the only Democrat on this list who, while not adding his name to the list of Medicare for All cosponsors, things that Democrats should probably start having a serious conversation on whether or not to back single-payer healthcare. He’s received $3,500 from Anthem in the 2017-2018 cycle.
12. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland): $2,500
Ben Cardin was first elected to the senate in 2006, though he’s been filing FEC reports since 1989. The insurance industry has been especially good to Cardin, giving him $1.1 million in campaign contributions since then. Cigna has given Sen. Cardin $2,500 in the current cycle.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.