July 15, 2010

The White House is lining up the players for implementation of the health insurance reform provisions coming up in September.

Via the Billings Gazette:

HELENA — Liz Fowler, a key staffer for U.S. Sen. Max Baucus who helped draft the federal health reform bill enacted in March, is joining the Obama administration to help implement the new law.

Fowler, chief health counsel for the Senate Finance Committee, which Baucus chairs, will become deputy director of the Office of Consumer Information and Oversight at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Liz Fowler is an extremely knowledgeable and dedicated adviser, and while I’m very proud of her new position, she will certainly be missed at the committee,” Baucus said in a statement Tuesday.

Baucus, D-Mont., led the Democrats’ efforts in the Senate the past two years to draft and pass a major health-reform bill, which President Barack Obama signed into law March 23.

Fowler's appointment has fired up a hot discussion about her past association with Wellpoint.

Marcy Wheeler:

This is the kind of “oversight” that resulted in the BP disaster.

And remember Obama’s lobbyist restrictions? The ones that prevent someone from working in the Executive Branch on an issue that they’ve lobbied Congress on for two years? Fowler was not a registered lobbyist; rather, she was the VP of Public Policy and External Affairs. But in any case, it appears that Fowler returned to MaxTax Baucus’ staff on March 4, 2008, so nothing prevents the former VP of WellPoint from writing the “consumer and oversight” rules that are the only thing protecting Americans from policies — like WellPoint’s — that screw consumers.

Marcy is correct: Fowler was not a registered lobbyist, nor was she acting as a lobbyist in her two years with Wellpoint. In fact, if you look over Fowler's entire career, she is a career public servant. One might even argue that private industry and Ms. Fowler were not a great "fit", as noted here:

As far as I have been able to tell, she has spent most of her career in public service. She spent her early years in at Hogan & Hartson, worked for Senator Pat Moynihan, Rep. Pete Stark and Senator Max Baucus, and then later rejoined Baucus and the Senate Finance Committee in 2008.

So what exactly is the problem? She's not a lobbyist; most of her career has been spent in public service; and she was the head of a 20-person team that drafted the Senate Finance Committee version of the reform bill.

Fowler headed up a team of 20-some Senate Finance Committee staffers who helped draft the bill in the Senate. She was Baucus’ top health care aide from 2001-2005 and left that job in 2006 to become an executive at WellPoint, the nation’s largest private insurer.

It's worth noting that the Senate Finance Reform committee version was certainly included in the Senate version of what ultimately became the Affordable Care Act, but so too were provisions from the Senate HELP Committee's version. Harry Reid, as you might recall, combined pieces of both to make the Senate bill, and that version included a watered-down, ineffective public option which was ultimately stripped away from the final version because Joe Lieberman wanted to punish liberals more than he wanted to see people have access to health care.

Liz Fowler didn't take out the public option. She didn't kill it. And she didn't lobby against it. Is it possible that she simply has a different policy opinion from others? Or that she actually doesn't have a different opinion but made a calculation about what was possible with this Senate Finance Committee?

Health care, whether it's government-run single payer or covered by private insurers, is one of the most complex areas of public policy there is. Implementation of the Affordable Care Act needs policy wonks at the helm. If Liz Fowler is anything at all, she is a policy wonk, one who has earned a doctorate and a law degree, and who has spent her entire career in the policy area of health care.

Seems like a natural choice to me. Don't forget she also worked for Pete Stark (an ardent single payer advocate). Why does the Wellpoint 2 years carry more weight than the Stark/Moynihan? Because it fits the narrative or because there's evidence of malfeasance? If there's evidence, where is it? A difference of opinion over policy does not mean corruption is afoot.

Something to consider, anyway.

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