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White House releases list of health executive visitors

The list shows that executives and lobbyists began visiting in early February for private meetings on healthcare policy.

July 23, 2009|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Obama's administration began holding private meetings with health industry executives and lobbyists at the White House a few weeks after he took office, a visitor list released Wednesday night by the White House shows.

Richard Umbdenstock, president of the American Hospital Assn., was at the White House on Feb. 4 and has been back at least half a dozen times since, most recently May 22. Other industry executives making February visits included health insurance company chief executives Angela Braly of WellPoint Inc. and Jay Gellert of Health Net Inc.

Gellert, a $500 donor to Obama's presidential campaign, was there Feb. 10, twice in March and on May 11. Braly visited on Feb. 13.

Obama released a list of White House visits by healthcare executives after a government watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, announced that it would sue to try to get White House visitor logs. So far, the Obama administration is following a Bush administration policy of refusing to release the logs, which are maintained by the Secret Service.

In recent weeks, the White House has announced agreements under which hospitals and the pharmaceutical industry promised cost savings in return for an expanded base of insured patients. The deals were struck in private meetings, drawing comparisons to then-Vice President Dick Cheney's secret talks with the energy industry in 2001 as he helped President George W. Bush draft a national energy policy. Cheney's meetings drew criticism from Democrats throughout the Bush years.

During his presidential campaign, Obama promised to hold lobbyists at arm's length and make his administration the most transparent in history.

Obama was asked at a news conference Wednesday night about his administration's refusal to say who had been to the White House to discuss a national healthcare overhaul.

"On the list of healthcare executives who visited us, most of [the] time you guys have been in there taking pictures, so it hasn't been a secret," he said. "And my understanding is we just sent a letter out providing a full list of all the executives."

CREW said it was pleased that the White House had provided the list but that it would continue seeking the visitor logs.

"The actual visitor records likely would indicate with whom each official met, the administration official who requested clearance for the visitor, the time of the meeting, the duration of the meeting and, in some cases, the purpose of the meeting. In addition, no information was provided regarding any visits to the vice president's residence," the group said in a written statement.

Other healthcare industry representatives named in the White House list include:

* Registered lobbyist W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, a former Louisiana congressman who heads the drug industry lobby the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA.

* Registered lobbyist Karen Ignagni, president and chief executive of America's Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade association.

* Dr. J. James Rohack, president of the American Medical Assn.

* William Weldon, chief executive of Johnson & Johnson.

* George Halvorson, head of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc.

* Thomas Priselac, chief executive of the Cedars-Sinai Health System.

* Registered lobbyist Rick Smith, a senior vice president of PhRMA.

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