Baucus’s last health chief? Also a Wellpoint lobbyist.

Last week, I noted that the key Baucus healthcare staffer is a former insurance executive. Now, Liz Fowler’s stint at Wellpoint is getting some more attention, as her electronic fingerprints have been found on the Senator’s new healthcare plan. Not surprising, as she’s the top health staffer in Baucus’s office, but the symbolism is rich: it’s as if Wellpoint wrote the Baucus plan.

Some more evidence of Wellpoint’s influence: Michelle Easton, Baucus’s top health aide prior to Fowler, is currently lobbying for Wellpoint.

While Fowler was at Wellpoint, Easton was the top healthcare staffer in Baucus’s office. Now, the roles are reversed. As a principal at the healthcare lobbying firm Tarplin, Downs, and Young, Easton is also lobbying for PhRMA, Amgen, and Wyeth. Before working for Baucus, she was a top lobbyist at PhRMA.

Both Fowler and Easton leveraged their work on the Medicare reform bill of 2003 to take lucrative jobs in the healthcare industry, at Wellpoint and PhRMA, respectively. Fowler played a crucial role in forging that compromise, according to the Hill:

But the signature legislative accomplishment, and personal experience, of her time with the Finance Committee was the Medicare Part D prescription-drug benefit. Fowler was at the center of negotiations that led to the 2003 enactment of the Medicare Modernization Act.

Grassley and Baucus and their aides worked closely together on the Medicare drug bill that they moved through their committee.

[Senate Finance chief health counsel Mark] Hayes has a memento from that period, a sheet of paper on which Fowler wrote out the framework for the compromise between Grassley’s and Baucus’s staffs before they brought a bill to the committee.

“That was S. 1,” Hayes says, referring to the designation for the Senate-passed Medicare bill. “That’s where the Medicare Modernization Act was born.”

Easton’s role is less clear, but as a staffer to Senator John Breaux, she likely played an important role in pushing that bill through (Breaux was a big Medicare privatization proponent and co-sponsor with Frist of the Medicare reform bill). There’s also her bio at Tarplin, Downs & Young:

Michelle worked extensively on the Medicare and Medicaid programs while working in the Congress, including instrumental work on the Modernization Act (MMA). She also was a Vice President at PhRMA during the critical MMA enrollment process and coordinated efforts with third party allied groups to maximize enrollment in the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Easton comes to the firm uniquely positioned to help the firm’s clients prepare for the opportunities and challenges of major Medicare legislation and health care reform.

The New York Times recently called the 2003 plan devised by Fowler, Easton, “a Medicare overhaul model not worth following” because of the associated costs and total lack of financing.

The core components of the plan — the Part D prescription drug benefit and Medicare Advantage — have been criticized as major giveaways and subsidies to big healthcare interests, at the expense of older Americans. Comptroller David M. Walker later called that bill “the most fiscally irresponsible piece of legislation since the 1960s.” The infamous “donut hole,” or gap in prescription drug coverage, originated in that legislation.

Are Easton and Fowler at it again?