THE 1ST CONGRESSIONAL District of Hawaii is about as far from Washington, D.C.’s pitched political battles as you can get — not typically seen as a national bellwether. Yet the race for the congressional district, centered in southern Oahu, is one of several competitive elections that has attracted the attention of big-money lobbyists seeking to influence the direction of American health care policy.
Hawaii’s 1st District seat, which was vacated by incumbent Democratic Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who is running for governor, has attracted six serious candidates to the Democratic primary in this reliably blue district. According to documents obtained by The Intercept, at least three of the candidates took time out from their schedules to talk to a consultant dispatched by the Healthcare Leadership Council, a lobbying group that seeks to advance the goals of the largest players in the private health care industry.
Now, the 1st District candidates working with the Healthcare Leadership Council — former state Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, Hawaii Lt. Gov. Doug Chin, and Honolulu City Council Member Ernest Martin — are taking heat from their opponents for talking to an industry-friendly group, even as public opinion is increasingly rallying to positions opposed by giant health care companies.
“Democrats running in a primary election will say they support ‘Medicare for All,’ but what do they say to lobbyists behind the scenes?” said Kaniela Ing, a state lawmaker vying for the 1st District seat on a democratic socialist platform, warning of Democrats who make progressive promises when campaigning, but then work hand in hand with industries when in office. “We need health care champions, not puppets.”
One of the leading candidates has campaigned on a promise to crack down on over-priced pharmaceuticals and promote single payer health care, but told the consultant dispatched by the Healthcare Leadership Council that he would maintain drug industry-friendly pricing policies and views Medicare for All with skepticism.