The Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act has not proved to be popular among most of the Americans it would directly affect, but according to a report by The Intercept, the Republican lawmakers pushing the health care bill have profited already, by buying up health care industry stocks as the bill moved through the legislative process. Those stocks have since raised in value, likely on investors expecting strong profits from the health care sector if the Republican bill (which includes potential heavy deregulations of health insurers) succeeds.
The health care bill is incredibly unpopular — Axios evaluated polling to find that the Republican health plan is the most unpopular legislation in recent history, even more so than the 2008 bank bailouts and President Clinton's failed health reform effort in 1993.
And despite (or perhaps because of) this public reaction, little effort has been made by the bill's advocates to sell the bill to the American people. The president has not held a speech, press conference, or interview promoting his health care plan in months; Congress has held no hearings or expert testimony on the bill; and many Republican lawmakers are avoiding meeting with constituents about the bill, even as advocates crowd their local offices to protest.
But even as these members of Congress skip publicly explaining to voters what good the bill would do for them, they benefit privately from the bill as businesses who could benefit from it expect it to pass, and they reap the benefits of increased stock prices.
According to the Intercept story, Representative Conaway, (R-TX), who is part of the House Republican leadership staff, bought up to $30,000 of United Health stock on March 24, the same day that the House version of the health care bill advance through a committee, while Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) bought between $50,000 and $100,000 of stock in the same company. The stock price of United Health has risen by 7 percent since March 24.
Representatives of the lawmakers in question told The Intercept that the stock purchases were unrelated to the health care bills.
This isn't the first time there have been problems of conflict of interest in lawmakers buying stocks. Tom Price, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, landed in hot water during his confirmation for the cabinet position due to purchases of pharmaceutical stocks at discounted prices while he was regulating the pharmaceutical industry. In 2012, Congress passed the STOCK act, which was aimed at preventing insider trading by members of Congress, after government officials had used top-level information to benefit themselves financially during the financial crisis.
It's still unclear if the Republican health care bill will become law. During the congressional recess, those few lawmakers who did meet with constituents expressed diminished enthusiasm for the health plan. And if the bill does pass, with its high unpopularity, it's likely that it won't help Republicans in Congress to keep their seats in the next election. But for these two lawmakers, at least, they've already benefited with their wallets.