WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House played political hardball with drug industry honchos to get a 2009 deal that helped keep health care overhaul legislation from bogging down in Congress, according to internal emails released Thursday by House Republicans.
Obtained from the industry by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the emails and documents shed light on the saga of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul as its fortunes shifted back and forth in Congress.
The basic outlines of the 2009 deal between the drug industry, the White House and a key Democratic senator were announced at the time, but the emails reveal inside details, such as the wariness participants had for one another, rivalries among insurers, drug makers and hospital groups, and high anxiety on all sides about the progress of the legislation.
The drug industry's $80 billion commitment gave Obama some momentum at a time when health care overhaul appeared to be bogging down on Capitol Hill. Drug makers agreed to help close Medicare's prescription coverage gap, known as the "doughnut hole," and to make other financial contributions.
The companies succeeded in avoiding new requirements to pay rebates to the government for Medicare drugs, their top priority. Ultimately, they also got White House help to beat back a plan that would have allowed Americans to legally import low-cost prescriptions from abroad.
"Taken together, these (emails and documents) help illuminate a previously opaque series of agreements that resulted in a fundamental reshaping of our nation's health care system," said an accompanying report from the committee's Republican staff.
A constitutional challenge to the health care law is now in the hands of the Supreme Court, with a decision expected by the end of June.
The staff report and the release of emails are part of the GOP campaign to fully repeal the legislation. Republicans say the emails show that the White House routinely ignored Obama's promise to openly negotiate health care legislation.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz dismissed the GOP report, calling it a "nakedly political, taxpayer-funded crusade to hurt the president's re-election campaign." Committee Democrats said it merely shows horse trading any president would do to enlist support for major legislation.