Meet the 'Nonpartisan' Health Care Group Behind Democrats' Latest Costly Proposal

The National Academy for State Health Policy is run by former Democratic staffers and funded by liberal dark money

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June 28, 2022

A health care group that presents itself as nonpartisan and has its fingerprints all over new proposals to extend Obamacare subsidies is closely linked to the Democratic Party and top liberal groups.

The National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP), which bills itself as a "nonpartisan organization" committed to developing state "health policy innovations and solutions," has emerged as an influential supporter of Democratic proposals to extend the health care subsidies, saying the issue should be a top priority for the Biden administration. But while Democrats point to the nonprofit as an impartial commentator on the issue, the group boasts significant ties to Democratic Party infrastructure—several of its employees have worked on Democratic campaigns, and it relies on millions in liberal dark money funding.

NASHP's support comes at a crucial time for Democrats. The potential expiration of Obamacare subsidies this year has raised alarms among Democratic lawmakers, who believe a spike in health care premiums could be the next crisis to hurt Democratic candidates ahead of midterm elections. NASHP has worked to help Democrats on this cause, meeting with lawmakers in May to rally support behind legislation to extend the subsidies, which are temporarily funded by President Joe Biden's $2 trillion American Rescue Plan. One week later, a group of 26 Democrats sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) advocating for the extension plan and cited NASHP's research, the Washington Examiner reported.

NASHP's deep ties to the Democratic Party complicate its appearance as a nonpartisan source of support for the legislative proposal, which is expected to cost taxpayers billions of dollars. The group was led for much of the past four decades by Trish Riley, who was NASHP's president from 1987 to 2002 and then returned in 2011 to lead its board of directors until she stepped down last year. In her eight years away from the group, Riley worked for Democratic Maine governor John Baldacci—she returned only after Maine elected a Republican as governor in 2010. Riley, who has been described in local media as a "veteran party activist," is now chairwoman of a Maine Democratic Party committee. She has donated more than $50,000 to Democratic campaigns since 1992, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Several top NASHP employees have also worked for Democratic campaigns and offices, as well as liberal advocacy groups such as the Center for American Progress. Jill Rosenthal, a senior program director for NASHP, left the group last year to become the director of public health policy at the prominent liberal think tank, which has also advocated for a subsidy extension in recent months, warning that Obamacare enrollees "will view higher premiums as soon as this fall" unless Democrats take action.

The health care group's extensive Democratic ties may have helped the group push its policy proposals within the Biden administration. NASHP, days after the 2020 presidential election, listed a set of priorities for the incoming administration, including the expansion of special enrollment periods for Obamacare. Biden then signed an executive order a week into his presidency indicating his administration would pursue the expansion.

NASHP denied partisan activity in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon.

"NASHP is not an advocacy organization," the organization said. "NASHP provides a unique forum for the productive exchange of strategies across state government, including the executive and legislative branches."

The organization is funded by and tied to liberal dark money groups. Arnold Ventures, which funds Democratic campaigns and liberal advocacy groups such as the New Venture Fund and the Center for American Progress, has donated nearly $8 million to NASHP since 2016. The billionaire-backed dark money group advocates gun control and climate change regulations.

NASHP, meanwhile, has paid $654,000 to Avenue Solutions—a lobbying firm that describes itself as an "all-female, all-Democratic firm." The Sixteen Thirty Fund, a top dark money group used to boost Democrats, paid Avenue Solutions $40,000 this year to lobby on health care issues. One of the lobbying disclosures details a push to make Obamacare subsidies permanent. Other top Democratic Party financial backers represented by the Avenue Solutions lobbying shop include the American Federation of Teachers, the American Medical Association, and major pharmaceutical companies.

The Obamacare subsidy expansion in the American Rescue Plan provides government support for families with income up to 400 percent above the poverty level and increased federal deficits by an estimated $34.2 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. These subsidies are set to expire at the end of the year and an extension from Congress would likely be established through the budget reconciliation process. Politico reported in June that Democrats' plans to extend these subsidies hinge on support from Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), who has expressed hesitation due to concerns over the budget deficit.