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Hospitals and Nursing Homes Spent $98 Million on State Politics. Now They Want Immunity for Patient Deaths.

As nursing-home deaths spike during the COVID-19 crisis, hospital and nursing-home companies are pushing for state laws all over America that would shield their executives and owners from responsibility — and trying to convince lawmakers by spending serious cash.

The special coronavirus area at Maimonides Medical Center in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City on May 26, 2020. Spencer Platt / Getty

Yesterday, Jacobin published a major investigative report showing how New York governor Andrew Cuomo granted liability immunity to hospital and nursing-home executives after his political machine received huge donations from the industries seeking those protections. But it’s not just a New York thing.

As nursing-home deaths spike during the COVID-19 crisis, hospital and nursing-home companies are pushing for state laws all over the United States that would shield their corporate executives, board members, and owners from civil litigation and government prosecution.

A review of campaign finance data suggest that these industries are well positioned to influence state politicians in their lobbying: hospitals and nursing homes have collectively pumped more than $98 million into state politics in the last election cycle and the current one, according to data from the National Institute on Money in Politics.

$44 Million Dumped Into States That Already Granted Immunity

$44 million of that cash haul flooded into the nineteen states that have already issued new executive orders or laws granting some form of liability protection to hospital and nursing-home corporations.

Among the states that have granted that immunity, the largest streams of cash flowed into Massachusetts ($25 million), Illinois ($5.6 million), New York ($5.2 million), Arkansas ($1 million) and Michigan ($1 million).

Millions More Flooding Into States Where Governors Are Being Lobbied

As the hospital and nursing-home industry now aims to get more states to pass such immunity laws, it is setting its sights on states where it has already spent big money tilling the political soil. For example:

  • The industry is pressing California Democratic governor Gavin Newsom to issue an executive order shielding health care industry executives from legal liability during the pandemic. Hospital and nursing-home interests have delivered more than $21 million to California candidates and political committees since 2017. That includes more than $2.8 million to the California Democratic Party.
  • The industry is pushing Florida Republican governor Ron DeSantis for immunity. The industry has given more than $3.2 million to Florida candidates and political committees since 2017. That includes more than $800,000 to the Florida Republican Party.

These tallies do not include the additional cash that pours into state politics from national groups like the parties’ governors associations.

For instance, in the last two election cycles, the American Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, has given the Democratic Governors Association $200,000 and the Republican Governors Association $150,000. In that same time period, HCA, the giant hospital chain, has given the Democratic Governors Association $75,000 and the Republican Governors Association $425,000.

To be clear — when considering all this money, it’s worth noting that some of it did not go to candidates or party committees, but instead to ballot measures (including ballot measures to limit corporate liability).

But the larger point stands: governors and legislators all know that the hospital and nursing-home industries have been huge political players in their elections. They also know those industries have enormous resources to use in the upcoming election should they not obtain the get-out-of-jail-free cards that they are seeking.