Baucus tax chief is former insurance and pharma lobbyist

Just when you thought the Baucus revolving door couldn’t spin faster: the Senate staffer responsible for devising the tax policies at the heart of the Baucus plan is a former lobbyist for health insurance and pharmaceutical interests, including an insurance industry front group.

Cathy Koch, who heads the Senate Finance committee’s tax department, was director of global government affairs at pharmaceutical company Amgen until early 2007. Before that, she worked at Ernst and Young, where she lobbied on behalf of a number of large insurance and pharmaceutical companies, including Aetna, Blue Cross, Eli Lilly, and Pfizer.

Tax incentives and calculations are central to health care reform plan that Baucus sent to members of the Gang of Six this weekend, including a penalty on health insurance companies offering expensive plans. The “Cadillac” plan tax has received significant media attention as a particularly important and controversial feature that targets insurance companies.

But was it designed by one of their own?

Beyond her work for a number of large pharmaceutical and insurance companies, Koch lobbied for the Health Benefits Coalition, an insurance industry front group, from 2001 to 2004. The group successfully fought Kennedy-sponsored legislation calling for a Patients’ Bill of Rights. Former insurance executive Wendell Potter has pointed to the group as a textbook example of insurance interests coming together to stymy healthcare reform efforts.

More references for this research can be found in the “sources” section of Koch’s profile page.

Baucus’s plan has already met with sharp criticism from many healthcare reform advocates. At Firedoglake, Marcy Wheeler is arguing that the plan amounts to “an attempt to turn the middle class into serfs to the health care industry.” Her post on the “Bad Max Tax” focuses on the plan’s math, and the extent to which it saddles middle class Americans with prohibitive healthcare costs.

Koch’s affiliations are all the more reason to go over Baucus’s tax proposals with a fine-tooth comb.

Roll Call ran a puff piece on Koch in April, calling her the “energizer bunny” for her ability to keep “cranking out legislation.” Health care reform was tops on her agenda.

Looking ahead, high on Koch’s to-do list is finding consensus on health care reform. And she shares her boss’s enthusiasm for the idea of retooling the system to lower costs and broaden coverage.

“Health care reform is the signal [sic] most priority for the committee of both the tax team and the health team,” she said. “That is really where we’re focused.”

The piece mentioned none of her past industry affiliations.

Koch is in good company as a lobbyist-turned-Baucus-staffer. Last week I found that Baucus’s chief health aide, Liz Fowler, was an executive at the insurance giant Wellpoint until 2008. Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown has called Fowler the “chief operating officer” of the health care reform process, and the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein has called her the most important Senate staffer on healthcare (similar to Roll Call, neither journalist mentioned that she was previously a Wellpoint executive).

These connections and more were dug up as part of our healthcare lobbyist tracking project with the Huffington Post Investigative. We’re up to over 500 healthcare lobbyists who used to be Congressional staffers!

In the coming weeks, as part of our new Spot.us pitch, we’ll also be focused on tracking down information on the Bay Area’s largest companies, which include Chevron and the healthcare giant McKesson. Considering making a donation if you want to help LittleSis watchdog the powers that be in San Francisco and beyond!