Chief health aide to Baucus is former Wellpoint executive

Senator Max Baucus’s chief health adviser, Elizabeth Fowler, has been called the “chief operating officer” of the healthcare reform process by Politico — the staffer who sets legislative deadlines, coordinates with the White House on policy, and is understood to speak for Baucus on health policy issues. Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein has called her the most influential health staffer in the Senate.

Fowler, as it turns out, is also fresh off a lucrative stint working for the insurance industry: from 2006 to 2008, she was VP of public policy for Wellpoint, the insurance giant.

That’s right, an insurance industry hack is the quiet name directing the healthcare reform process on Capitol Hill.

It gets worse. Baucus’s chief health advisor prior to Fowler, Michelle Easton, currently lobbies for Wellpoint as a principal at Tarplin, Downs, & Young.

Baucus & chief health aide Liz Fowler
Baucus & chief health aide Liz Fowler, former Wellpoint executive.

Fowler worked for Baucus as chief health aide from 2001 to 2005, as well. The revolving door is spinning so fast, in this particular case, that it’s hard to tell whether Baucus prefers hiring directly from Wellpoint, or vice versa (or maybe they use the same headhunter?).

These ties were uncovered through our project with citizen journalists at the Huffington Post Investigative, which aimed to track down Congressional staffers-turned-healthcare lobbyists. We’re in the process of wrapping up the project, which so far has identified 450 staffers-turned-lobbyists. Analyst @sundin was the first to notice Easton’s trips from Capitol Hill to K Street and back.

Klein and the Politico both failed to mention Fowler’s insurance industry ties, while hailing her as an important figure in the healthcare reform process. The Politico mentioned her time in the private sector without getting into specifics, and Klein called her hiring by Baucus reason for hope, without mentioning where she was hired from.

Whatever the reason for the omissions, it’s a good illustration of why LittleSis matters, and why research projects like this one will play an important role in the emerging news ecosystem.

We’ll have more on the dynamic duo at the Baucus-Wellpoint nexus, and potential policy implications, over the next week.