The health industry is gearing up to be a major influence in 2020, and making it known from the first round of campaign contributions.

Tarbell reviewed the top 20 health industry contributors in the 2017-2018 election cycle, according to OpenSecrets, to see how much they’ve shelled out in the first months of the 2020 election season. “Medicare for All” and the opioid crisis are already hot debate topics, and Big Health seems eager to spend in order to influence and bend reforms to their business and monetary benefit.

The top 20 health care contributors from the 2018 elections have already invested more than $1.2 million into politicians running in 2020, according to Federal Election Commission data on individual contributions. In the 2017-2018 cycle, the entire industry contributed $225 million by the end of that cycle, and more than $103 million of that came from those 20 contributors.

In the first quarter of campaign contribution data for the 2020 election cycle, the biggest recipient of health industry money was the Democratic National Committee – after the corporate health PACs themselves – bringing in $101,825. Big Health appears to be making early investments into the Democrats, who are divided into Medicare for All supporters and those who promote a slower expansion of health coverage. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) gained $41,225 while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee received $9,851.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican up for reelection in Kentucky in 2020, received the greatest total contributions in Congress so far, bringing in $48,000 through multiple $1,000+ contributions, all from pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly & Co employees. Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, of Delaware, was the next highest recipient from across Big Health, perhaps because of his preference for a “Medicare X” alternative to Medicare for All. The centrist senator reaped $31,000, all from biotech company Amgen. Kamala Harris, a Democratic senator from California who is running for president, was a major recipient too, taking in multiple $1,000+ donations from employees at Pfizer and Kaiser Permanente, and psychiatrist and political organizer Karla Jurvetson. Much of her receipts came in the form of small donations from social workers or IT consultants, but the Medicare for All supporter also received larger donations from leaders of Blue Cross Blue Shield, Kaiser Permanente and UnitedHealth.

Campaign Contributions From “Big Health” So Far

So far, UnitedHealth Group is reigning as the top contributor in this first cycle, giving $259,828, much of which went back into its own PAC. Meanwhile, employees of the D.E. Shaw companies, which include a hedge fund and biochemical research firm, have been making large investments into Democratic presidential candidates, such as Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, to a total of $234,150.

Other health companies outside OpenSecrets’ list of top 2018 contributors are already making significant investments too. Most notably, private insurance and managed care provider Centene Corporation already sunk $272,246 into the election, two-thirds of which went to DCCC, which has notably been working against the Medicare for All movement.  

A notable omission from the Big Health activity so far is the current president’s reelection campaign. At least in this first quarter, Make America Great Again, a super PAC that supports President Donald Trump, only received $1,587 from these top health industry groups, and the Trump Victory group received no contributions.

Tarbell will continue to follow campaign contributions, paying close attention to the health care companies and influencers that will try to steer conversation about the future of Americans’ health coverage. If you have any questions about this data, or spot a potential story for coverage, please reach out to the author.