White House Discloses Meetings With Health Care Executives
Updated 9:37 p.m.
By Dan Eggen
The Obama administration released Wednesday night a list of 15 health-care lobbyists and senior executives who have visited the White House to discuss health-care reform.
Guests have included Billy Tauzin of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America; Karen Ignagni of America's Health Insurance Plans; Richard Umbdenstock of the American Hospital Association; and J. James Rohack of the American Medical Association, according to a letter from White House Counsel Gregory B. Craig. Senior executives at companies including Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, UnitedHealth Group and Merck also visited at least once.
The list was released in response to a lawsuit filed earlier in the day by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, which had been denied access to the names by the U.S. Secret Service. Many of the meetings, it turned out, were well-known gatherings that had already been publicized.
Obama noted as much during his news conference Wednesday night, saying, "Most of the time, you guys have been in there taking pictures, so it hasn't been a secret. ... These have mostly been at least photo sprays, where you could see who was participating."
Obama added that he would back broader access to future meetings at the White House or in Congress. "If [lawmakers] wanted those to be on C-Span, then I would welcome it," he said. "I don't think there are a lot of secrets going on in there."
CREW said in a statement that Craig's letter "in no way" fulfills the group's request, which was for the visitor logs themselves.
"Releasing some records because it is politically expedient to do so is not transparency," the group said.
The White House's decision to release the information marks another departure in policy from the Bush administration, which fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to withhold the names of participants in an energy task force, run by then-vice president Richard B. Cheney, that was dominated by representatives of the oil and gas industries.
The Obama White House has made little secret of its intent to meet frequently with industry representatives in hopes of gaining their cooperation on reform efforts. One March 5 health-care summit, for example, was hosted by President Obama and featured more than 150 people, including physicians, business leaders, union representatives and consumer advocates. Four of the industry group leaders on the new White House list attended that summit.
Although most of the leaders on the list visited the White House once or twice, others were more frequent guests, the letter shows. The most frequent visitor was Umbdenstock, president and CEO of the hospitals group, who met with officials or attended gatherings at the White House eight times from Feb. 4 to May 22.
Posted at 7:57 PM ET on Jul 22, 2009
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