Healthcare Lobbyist – A Day in the Life

The term lobbyist was popularized by Ulysses S. Grant, who used it to describe the self-promoting individuals he often encountered in the lobby of the Willard Hotel, which stood just two blocks down from the White House. In contemporary American politics, that lobby is more of a metaphorical one, but lobbyists are as real as they’ve ever been. And in the US healthcare system, they’re an integral part of what influences overall policy.

According to research by Accenture, the US healthcare system is so complex that more than half of the country does not understand how to navigate it. Changing that system is orders of magnitude more difficult. But that’s the charge of healthcare lobbyists, who advocate for the interests of patients, providers, insurers, pharmaceutical companies, or others in the healthcare industry. Leveraging subject-level expertise and a mastery of the art of persuasion, healthcare lobbyists fight to make meaningful adjustments to the US healthcare system.

The stakes are absurdly high. In 2019, four of the six top spenders on lobbying in the US were healthcare-related organizations. Together, they doled out roughly $100 million, outspending cash-flush tech companies like Facebook and Amazon. But what that money could possibly buy is even more valuable: changes to a healthcare system that spends the most of any rich country—but still delivers some of the worst outcomes to the people who use it.

Healthcare Lobbyist Work Environment

The epicenter of the lobbyist industry is situated in proximity to the federal government, on Washington DC’s K Street. A 2011 report in The Washington Post estimated that there were over 13,000 lobbyists across all industries in Washington DC, but with the vast majority of lobbying expenditures going to fewer than 300 firms. Furthermore, the turnover amongst those firms was extremely low. The top ten highest-paid lobbying firms across all industries pulled in nearly a quarter-billion dollars in 2018 alone.

A lobbyist doesn’t necessarily need to live in the nation’s capital, however, nor do they need to work directly at a law firm. Healthcare lobbyists can be employed by pharmaceutical companies, insurance agencies, healthcare providers, nonprofit organizations, or any other outfit with a footprint in the healthcare industry. They can work at the federal, state, or local level.

This is a modern and mobile profession that centers around a mix of networking and analysis, and a healthcare lobbyist will often take their job with them across multiple locations.

Healthcare Lobbyist Daily Responsibilities

The primary responsibility of a healthcare lobbyist is to advance the interests of their client. Who that client is will have an enormous impact on the actual tasks at hand: the needs of a pharmaceutical company can diverge significantly from the needs of a public health organization, for example. Still, some general similarities do exist across the daily responsibilities of many healthcare lobbyists.

Typical daily responsibilities of a healthcare lobbyist may include:

  • Cultivating personal and professional relationships
  • Meeting with elected officials and policymakers
  • Drafting potential changes to current policy
  • Analyzing the impacts of different policy proposals
  • Organizing broader support through fundraisers
  • Educating and advising other stakeholders

Healthcare lobbyists generally fall into two categories: direct lobbyists and indirect lobbyists.

  • Direct lobbyists, also called inside lobbyists, will focus on influencing government officials and their staff directly.
  • Indirect lobbyists, also called outside lobbyists, will attempt to influence people outside the policymaking community, who can in turn pressure policymakers.

Both categories require a strong skill set and educational background.

Healthcare Lobbyist Required Skills & Knowledge

A firm understanding of the legal and policy frameworks undergirding healthcare is a requirement for practically all healthcare lobbyists. In order to meet the complexity of this profession, healthcare lobbyists almost certainly will need a graduate-level education.

Many direct healthcare lobbyists have a law degree, which facilitates their work with legal teams as well as law-minded politicians. Indirect healthcare lobbyists may have less formal legal training but typically have strong skills in public relations, including the use of social media.

Both categories may also have graduate-level, healthcare-focused training, such as that provided through a master’s of healthcare administration or a master’s of public health. An understanding of finance, statistics, and data analysis is beneficial as well.

Healthcare lobbyists are not mere number crunchers, as they need to be able to understand, educate, and sell the complex workings of particular forms of healthcare policy. This is a networking profession, so interpersonal skills, communication, and persuasion are all immensely important. In the final analysis, a successful healthcare lobbyist is evaluated on what they can get done and how.

Experience is highly valued in healthcare lobbyists. And, at the highest level, healthcare lobbyists are an extremely exclusive bunch who often count former politicians amongst their ranks. But this is not an impossible profession to enter: grassroots organizations, public health advocates, and internship roles all provide opportunities for healthcare lobbyists to cut their teeth and build up their experience.

Healthcare Lobbyist Regulatory Requirements

While there is no certification requirement for healthcare lobbyists, those who pursue this career will most likely need to register themselves with state and federal governments. This level of disclosure is critical for promoting transparency and compliance across all of a lobbyist’s actions and a failure to observe the complex laws around the profession can have severe penalties.

Fees, rules, and requirements around lobbying and registering as a lobbyist vary substantially from state to state, and role to role, but a general guide can be found through the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about emerging issues in healthcare administration and public health, with a particular focus on progressive policies that empower communities and reduce health disparities. His work centers around detailed interviews with researchers, professors, and practitioners, as well as with subject matter experts from professional associations such as the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) and the American College of Health Care Executives (ACHCA).

Related Posts

  • 30 April 2021

    Compliance Director – Education, Certification & Daily Responsibilities

    Every game needs a set of rules. Industry regulations ensure a safe and equitable playing field for all involved participants. But these types of rules are far more complex than those found in an NFL game, and that’s why organizations operating in regulated areas hire experts specifically tasked with regulatory adherence.

  • 1 October 2018

    Influential Healthcare Law and Policy Professors to Know

    Sitting at the intersection of law and healthcare is a group of talented educators who are experts in how policies shape public health outcomes.

  • 30 April 2024

    Did Hackers Who Attacked Change Healthcare Collect $22 Million in Ransom?

    Although students in MHA and healthcare MBA programs learn a vast assortment of managerial strategies, it’s unlikely that any of these programs would have taught them how to manage through the kind of catastrophic cyberattack that shut down Change Healthcare—and much of the U.S. healthcare industry.

  • 16 April 2024

    Palomar Health’s Financial Crisis: Is Private Management the Answer?

    Most MHA and healthcare MBA students who interview for internships and jobs with county medical centers and other state and local hospitals expect that they would work for such institutions as public employees following an offer. But if such facilities follow the controversial lead of California’s largest public healthcare district, public/private distinctions like those might soon become a lot more complicated.

  • 2 February 2024

    Measuring the Healthcare Sector: Who, What, Why?

    Alongside HHS and still within the Department of Commerce, one finds the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). The BEA is responsible for producing economic statistics in general. They contribute to measuring healthcare spending as part of their calculation of GDP as a whole—the healthcare sector just happens to entail one-fifth of that total amount. They coordinate closely with NHEA and CMS on these calculations.