HEALTH CARE POLITICS: Democrats Stress Health Care
Today's Wall Street Journal reports that Democratic candidates nationwide "are portraying Republicans as a callous lot, indifferent to environmental degradation, women's rights, senior citizens and schools as they favor their patrons in the firearms lobby, the medical insurance industry, and on Wall Street." Despite the fact that Republicans are still expected to make gains in the congressional and gubernatorial majorities, the Journal notes that "the political dialogue has shifted, at least temporarily, onto terrain where Democrats are equipped to compete for the suburban swing voters who decide elections." Health care is playing into some key races:
- Alabama's Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, Don Siegelman, is running an ad that "depicts a haggard old man with a walker and accuses incumbent Republican Fob James of backing Medicaid cuts that could force the elderly from nursing homes."
- Maryland's Democratic incumbent governor, Parris Glendening, charges that GOP challenger Ellen Sauerbrey is "a foe of abortion rights."
- In California, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) is running an ad implying that GOP challenger Matt Fong "would retain for health maintenance organization executives the same sort of immunity from lawsuits enjoyed by diplomats."
According to the Journal, Democrats' use of "wedge issues" is a sign that the GOP has indeed become the nation's majority party. Democratic pollster Geoff Garin said, "When you're the incumbent, your job's not to agitate, it's to pacify. You use wedge issues when you're the out party" (Harwood, 10/28).
The Foster's Daily Democrat reported that the American Association of Health Plans is targeting New Hampshire and its first-in-the-nation presidential primary in an effort to "help shape debate over additional" managed care regulations. AAHP strategist Mark Merritt said, "We're not trying to say that HMOs are perfect or there are not political challenges. The health care system can always be better. ... But it is wrong to use health care as a political football to be kicked around." He added that New Hampshire and Iowa will likely be where the HMO reform issue will be stressed in the 2000 presidential election (Rayno, 10/24).
New Hampshire Gov. Race
The Associated Press reports that the candidates in the New Hampshire gubernatorial race "differ starkly" when it comes to the HMO reform issue. Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) "wants to strengthen consumer protections by allowing patients to sue managed care companies, appeal benefit denials to outside review boards, and learn who denied treatment and what financial incentives may have influenced decisions about care." Shaheen also wants the state Board of Medicine to oversee decisions made by HMO medical directors. Shaheen's opponent, Republican Jay Lucas, says he supports giving patients the right to sue their health plans, but he opposes increased government regulation of the health care industry (10/27).