HANDOUT PHOTO: undated photo of Michael Bromberg. (Family Photo) (Family Photo/Family Photo)

Michael Bromberg, a leading health-care lobbyist who battled the Clinton White House over health-care reform and for more than four decades played an influential if rarely acknowledged role behind the scenes of Washington policymaking, died Aug. 12 at his home in Manhattan. He was 78.

The cause was leukemia, said a daughter, Melissa Fass.

Mr. Bromberg, whom The Washington Post once called the “dean of Washington health lobbyists,” was known for being tough but resolutely pragmatic. He cultivated friends in both major political parties over dinners at his then home in the city’s Kalorama neighborhood.

“In some ways, and I mean this in a very positive way, he was the consummate insider who was trusted by everyone,” said Chip Kahn, president of the Federation of American Hospitals, a trade association of for-profit hospitals that Mr. Bromberg led from 1969 to 1994. “He was a straight-shooter who had no concerns about the limelight or about getting credit for things.”

As executive director of the FAH, Mr. Bromberg was the Washington face of an increasingly powerful segment of the American health-care industry. For-profit hospitals — also known as investor-owned — existed for years, but they took off after the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs were established in 1965, and now make up about 20 percent of U.S. hospitals.

Michael Bromberg and leaders from the ANA, AARP, and AMA held a press conference in Washington to protest proposed Medicare budget cuts in 1987. Carol McCarthy of AHA is behind Bromberg. AARP's John Rother is second from left. James H Sammons of AMA is at far right. (Federation of American Hospitals)

Mr. Bromberg came to Washington as administrative assistant to Rep. Herbert Tenzer (D-N.Y.) in the 1960s, but his political allegiance had changed by the Reagan presidency of the 1980s.

“He was always in favor of figuring out ways, through a bipartisan approach, that expansion of health coverage could be done,” Kahn said, adding that Mr. Bromberg “was always sensitive to government price-setting and government control of the way the industry served patients.”

When President Carter proposed aggressive cost-containment measures in 1977 to limit soaring health-care costs, Mr. Bromberg helped organize a voluntary, industry-wide effort to lower prices, deterring the federal government from further regulation.

A decade later, amid continued calls for health-care reform, Mr. Bromberg spearheaded the founding of the Healthcare Leadership Council, a consortium of top health-care executives who worked to oppose a single-payer system of health insurance, in which the government — rather than private insurers — pays all health-care costs. For any reforms that did pass, the consortium pushed to minimize government regulation.

Following the 1992 presidential election of Bill Clinton, who had called for comprehensive health insurance on the campaign trail, large-scale health-care reform seemed inevitable.

A task force led by first lady Hillary Clinton and Clinton aide Ira Magaziner, a former business consultant, drafted a 1,342-page plan that proposed to make health insurance mandatory — a core element that some health-care lobbyists, chief among them Mr. Bromberg, found unacceptable.

Dan Rostenkowski, the Illinois Democrat who chaired the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, encouraged the first lady to meet with Mr. Bromberg. By then, according to “War Without Bloodshed,” a 1996 account of Beltway politics by journalists Eleanor Clift and Tom Brazaitis, Mr. Bromberg was known around town as “Mr. Health Care” — a power broker whose support was crucial to getting any health-care bill through Congress.

In their first meeting, Mr. Bromberg later said, he pushed for Clinton to compromise on the bill by dropping the universal-coverage mandate and a provision that would have put a cap on the cost of health care, among other items. The hypothetical compromise bill, he said, would have still allowed individuals to take their insurance plan with them from job to job, included vouchers to ensure coverage for children and pregnant women, and insured coverage for individuals with preexisting conditions.

The first lady was adamant about ramming the existing bill through Congress. “Bill and I didn’t come to Washington to play the game as usual — and to fuzz the difference between universal coverage and access,” she said, Newsweek reported at the time.

Mr. Bromberg’s later attempts to forge a compromise were unsuccessful, and he became a chief opponent of the bill, meeting with newspaper editorial boards and successfully lobbying members of Congress behind the scenes.

After the bill was defeated, in 1994, Mr. Bromberg expressed disappointment that a compromise to expand health-care coverage was not reached. The Clintons, he told the PBS program “Frontline,” had failed to seize a historic opportunity.

“You can’t walk in here with a plan, this gigantic, and just hand it to the Congress, and expect them to pass it. It’s just not going to happen,” he said. “But, they could’ve had half of it.”

Michael David Bromberg was born in Providence, R.I., on May 4, 1938. His father, Morris, founded the New England hardware and automotive chain Benny’s.

A pianist and jazz enthusiast, Mr. Bromberg sang alongside Art Garfunkel with the celebrated Kingsmen a capella group at Columbia University. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1959.

After graduating from New York University law school in 1962, Mr. Bromberg went to work for Tenzer at his Manhattan law firm and managed Tenzer’s successful congressional campaign in 1964. He later served as a policy adviser to the presidential campaigns of Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) and Mitt Romney, the businessman and former Massachusetts governor.

In 2001, Mr. Bromberg founded Capitol Health Group, a lobbying organization that represented clients such as Pfizer Inc. and Humana Inc. He continued working there and as vice chairman at the Federation of American Hospitals until his death.

His first marriage, to Ethel Katz, ended in divorce. With his wife of 48 years, the former Marlys Bach, Mr. Bromberg founded the Health Coverage Foundation, which helps low-income families obtain private health-insurance coverage.

Besides his wife, survivors include two daughters from his first marriage, Marjorie Hope Goldberg of Philadelphia and Susan Cohen of the Bronx, N.Y; three daughters from his second marriage, Cherise Bromberg of Carnation, Wash., Carrie Bromberg of Arlington, Va., and Melissa Fass of Westport, Conn.; and three grandchildren.

Mr. Bromberg was urged to run for office after his mentor, Tenzer, left Congress in 1968. He declined, however, later telling The Post that he preferred to shape politics from the outside.

“It’s like a chess game,” he said. “It’s better to be a chess player than the pieces.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the year in which Mr. Bromberg managed Herbert Tenzer’s successful congressional campaign. It was 1964, not 1960. The story has been revised.