CAMPAIGN 2000: Health Care Seen as Key Issue
Health care is taking center stage as candidates gear up for the 2000 elections, and with constituents more concerned than ever about Medicare and prescription drug costs, the issue stands to figure "more visibly than it has in years," the Washington Post reports. "I think we're on the cusp of health care exploding as a major issue again," said Robert Laszewski, a Washington-based health policy consultant. "It's clear to me this freight train is coming down the track, and it's bigger now than it was in 1992," he said. The issue is taking a different form this time around, as the broader "health reform" issue has become a "collection of distinct worries," including enrollees' eagerness to wrest more clout from managed care plans, fears of Medicare becoming insolvent, anxiety regarding lapses in medical records confidentiality and concerns about the number of uninsured. "Each one of those has its own center of gravity rather than having one big comprehensive health care agenda," said Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN). The Harvard School of Public Health's Robert Blendon suggested that the change evolved after the Clinton administration's botched attempt to overhaul the health care system in 1993 and 1994. The efforts "left behind an indelible lesson: Patients look toward Washington for help, but not too much help," he said, adding, "People want some of these issues addressed. But there's no stomach for really big changes out there." The second lesson, the Post reports, is that Republicans, long known for throwing up roadblocks to Clinton's plans, will have to "be more than obstructionists" in the upcoming elections. Indeed, Republicans responded to Clinton's Medicare reform proposal issued two weeks ago by saying they, too, want to provide drugs to beneficiaries. "The fear of being painted as the party that denied Granny her drug coverage will probably motivate lots of Republicans to push for their proposals, so the voters don't go into the voting booths thinking the Democrats are for drug coverage and the Republicans aren't," said Drew Altman, president of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Already, the Post reports, constituents are lending an ear. HHS Secretary Donna Shalala said that her four-state tour to drum up support for Clinton's new Medicare plan "attracted among the largest crowds she has ever drawn" to such an event (Goldstein/Broder, 7/11).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.