The Kaiser Family Foundation, a prominent health care think tank, styles itself as a non-partisan research organization, yet the majority of its board, including Obamacare architect Kathleen Sebelius, donate to Democratic candidates and causes.
The highly-cited Kaiser organization (it is not connected to insurance company Kaiser Permanente) is referred to as non-partisan in its research on the health insurance market and federal policies governing the health care system.
Eight of the 14 board of trustees members donate exclusively to Democrats in election cycles where online data are available, and just two board members donate exclusively to Republican candidates, according to data from the Federal Election Commission. The other four members are active campaign contributors listed on the FEC’s website.
Sebelius, who served in former President Barack Obama’s cabinet as secretary of Health and Human Services and helped craft and implement the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare, officially joined the Kaiser board in March of this year. She has donated thousands to Democratic candidates in the past 20 years.
Kaiser enjoys great respect of the insurance and health care policy world. It is cited by numerous news outlets across the political spectrum.
The foundation’s goal is to provide an “everyday resource for journalists and news organizations as they cover the ACA,” Drew Altman, president, CEO and founder of the foundation, wrote on the foundation’s website in 2014. Altman and senior staff oversee the foundations research “based on an assessment of news and current events,” a spokesman for the foundation told The Daily Caller News Foundation. Kaiser’s “board of trustees approves the Foundation’s budget and major initiatives,” the spokesman said.
The foundation also has its own publishing platform in Kaiser Health News, founded in 2009, which now endeavors “to cover the ACA story as it unfolds in states and communities beyond the Beltway.” The news service is editorially independent of the board of trustees.
Altman has donated more than $7,000 to Democratic candidates, including a combined $2,500 to former President Barack Obama’s campaign and an additional $500 to the Obama Victory Fund in 2012, according to FEC individual filings.
The chair of the board of trustees is James Doyle, the former Democratic governor of Wisconsin, who has donated more than $22,000 to the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates since 1999. Doyle donated to Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate and $2,000 to Planned Parenthood Votes in 2016, and gave the maximum $27,000 individual donation to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2015.
Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, who was the sole Republican senator on the Senate Committee on Finance to vote in favor of approving the Obamacare bill for a floor vote in October 2009, is one of the two Republican donors on the board of trustees. Snowe voted against the bill in the full chamber, however.
The other Republican donor on the Kaiser board, former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, left the Senate in 2007 before Obama’s election. But he told Time in October 2009 that he was in favor of most Obamacare reforms and would vote for the bill if he were still in Congress.
“I would end up voting for it,” Frist said. “As leader, I would take heat for it. … That’s what leadership is all about.”
Over the years, some have criticized the Kaiser foundation for promoting Obamacare through its research, particularly between 2009 and and Obamacare’s implementation in 2013.
James Capretta, health care policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute, referred to one 2012 study as an “in-kind donation to the Obama campaign,” calling the Kaiser foundation “supposedly nonpartisan, but reliably liberal” in an article for National Review
“The quality and credibility of [Kaiser Family Foundation’s] work speaks for itself, and we are pleased that a range of individuals and organizations across the political spectrum use our work product,” Kaiser’s spokesman said.
Kaiser’s trustees, all noted health care experts, have avoided publicly taking sides on Trump’s reforms of the ACA, and the foundation itself takes no position for or against any law or proposed legislation.
Altman stated that while Kaiser does not take positions on specific policies, the organization does “want to see more Americans have insurance coverage and better protection from the sometimes crushing burden of health care costs.”
As the Republicans in Congress struggle to fulfill their own campaign promises to repeal Obamacare, President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened that he will simply let Obamacare fail. It’s unclear whether this means ceasing monthly subsidy payments to Obamacare exchanges, which the White House says it will fund at least through August.
But Altman pointed out that Obamacare exchanges are “not in free fall or imploding, as President Trump suggests, and in most markets insurer profits have been improving,” Altman and Larry Levitt, a senior adviser at the Kaiser foundation, wrote in an August 1 op-ed.
The exchanges are, however, in a fragile state and in need federal policy changes if they are to continue, the pair wrote. “It’s no longer Obamacare; it’s now just the nation’s health insurance system,” Altman and Levitt wrote.
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