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Health Care Fun: Liz Fowler to K Street, Walmart Slashing Worker Hours

Here are a couple little snowflakes from the legacy of the Affordable Care Act.

You might remember that the one staffer Max Baucus personally thanked on the floor of the Senate for her work on the bill was Liz Fowler, the former WellPoint VP. From there, she went to work at the Department of Haelth and Human Services, in charge of consumer issues and oversight. And with her efforts completed there, she’s rotating back into – you guessed it – a lobbyist position:

Liz Fowler left her post as deputy director of the Office of Consumer Information and Oversight at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for a senior position in Johnson & Johnson’s government affairs and policy group. According to Politico, which first reported the departure, Fowler would be leading the company’s “global health policy,” which has raised a few flags.

The president’s health care law, after all, still needs to be implemented, and Johnson & Johnson could stand to benefit from alterations to certain provisions. Moreover, Fowler’s hiring by the pharmaceutical giant comes after the president’s team cut a deal with the industry’s lobby arm that limited the government’s ability to negotiate for cheaper drug prices. In exchange, the lobby arm, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), backed the legislation.

“As a broad matter, we should be concerned about the access that certain individuals have by working in the administration and in Congress because these policy questions are going to continue to come up, and voters will feel like the game is rigged against them,” said David Donnelly, executive director of the Public Campaign Action Fund. Donnelly noted that the nation’s capital witnesses a mass migration from K Street to public office (or vice versa) every two years.

Fowler joins 33 other former Baucus staffers now lobbying the government.

Well done, Johnson & Johnson. I’m sure there was quite a bidding war for Fowler’s services. Theoretically, Fowler would be “forbidden” from lobbying the White House after leaving the Administration. In practice, White House officials meet with lobbyists at the Starbucks across the street from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to get around other restrictions, so I think Fowler will get her voice heard should she so desire. Maybe Fowler will just work internally with other Johnson & Johnson lobbyists, giving them the benefit of her expertise.

Moving from Fowler to the fruits of her work, Marcy Wheeler points to the news on Walmart’s gambit to take advantage of the ACA by getting around any employer mandates:

Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, plans to begin denying health insurance to newly hired employees who work fewer than 30 hours a week, according to a copy of the company’s policy obtained by The Huffington Post.

Under the policy, slated to take effect in January, Walmart also reserves the right to eliminate health care coverage for certain workers if their average workweek dips below 30 hours — something that happens with regularity and at the direction of company managers […]

“Walmart is effectively shifting the costs of paying for its employees onto the federal government with this new plan, which is one of the problems with the way the law is structured,” said Ken Jacobs, chairman of the Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

Walmart, you remember, supported the ACA, and now you can understand why. This huge loophole in the employer side of the law actually incentivizes companies to reduce the hours of their employees. And this isn’t just happening at Walmart. I’ve heard that all kinds of retailers and service-sector employers who set schedules themselves plan to drop employees below 30 hours a week.

Now, this probably means that Walmart will join the lobbying on the Medicaid expansion, which now represents a key component of their business model. And overall, higher enrollment on Medicaid beats more uninsured. But I’m sure the Walmart employees would take more hours in a heartbeat.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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