HEALTH CARE POLITICS: Heading Into The Home Stretch
Managed care reform as a political issue "isn't galvanizing voters," the Chicago Tribune reports, noting that "the call for stronger patient protections has become the equivalent of a political football, tossed about by politicians on both sides of the aisle." Both political parties called for HMO reforms this year, leaving voters confused about "the differences between the Democratic and Republican positions on this issue." Harvard University health policy professor Robert Blendon said, "Your average voter can differentiate between candidates based on clear differences of opinions. ... But when candidates agree on the surface and disagree on details, especially in an area as complicated as health reform, voters simply don't know what they're talking about."
Colorado Case Study
The Tribune notes that Dottie Lamm, the Democratic challenger to Colorado's incumbent GOP Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, believed the HMO reform issue would be key in her race. The state "appeared to be ripe for the strategy. More than one out of three people ... receive medical care from HMOs, making it one of the top managed care markets in the nation." But Lamm failed to damage Campbell's standing in the polls, as the incumbent cited his support for some HMO reforms and charged Lamm of "favoring the rationing of medical care." GOP pollster Floyd Ciruli said, "Let's face it, this issue [HMO reform] got buried in the Clinton scandal, and never developed any real traction locally after that." Eric Sondermann, a Colorado Democratic strategist said, "HMO reform is something many voters care passionately about, but they don't know which candidate really stands with them or against them, who really identifies with their values" (Graham, 11/1).
But Wait, It's Still Alive
Today's Wall Street Journal reports that managed care reform "lives on in campaigns, packing an emotional wallop that Democrats are trying to translate into votes." The article profiles Gail Riecken, the Democrat trying to unseat incumbent GOP Rep. John Hostettler in Indiana's 8th congressional district. Recent surveys show that Riecken "has narrowed a 20-point deficit against Rep. Hostettler to just nine." Explaining her success, the Democrat cites her "relentless focus on health issues, which includes not only patients' rights, but also breast cancer research and problems caused by Medicare cuts to home health providers." In Indiana and across the country, "Democrats assert that scandal-obsessed Republicans have ignored real-life problems such as health care." The Journal concludes, "The anti-HMO rhetoric portends legislative tussling next year." Health Insurance Association of America's Chip Kahn said, "This isn't an issue that will swing the election, but it's clearly part of the campaign. And when people talk a lot about an issue, they tend to want to do something about it once they're elected" (McGinley, 11/2).
The Bill And Hillary Show
Campaigning in Illinois Saturday for U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley- Braun (D), First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton said, "Social Security, education and Medicare are lost causes if Republicans control Congress." She charged that Republicans "want to turn Medicare over to HMOs just when 'HMOs are throwing Medicare recipients out. ... The HMOs do not want to take care of older Americans'" (Gillis, Chicago Sun-Times, 11/1). President Clinton "is asking voters to elect congressional candidates who support his 'patients' bill of rights'" proposal. Today, the president is scheduled to release a report "documenting action that the federal government is taking within its authority to implement the patient's bill of rights in the health plans it administers or oversees." At today's event, Clinton is expected to urge "Americans to go to the polls tomorrow to elect a Congress that shares this commitment" (AP/Nando Times, 11/2). Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) said of the elections: "If you vote Democratic, you're going to get attention paid to health care, a Patients Bill of Rights. You're going to get attention paid to education. ... And you're going to get attention paid to saving Social Security first" (11/1).
Democratic Edge On Health Care
A CBS News/New York Times survey finds that the public believes Democrats will do a better job of improving the health care system and protecting Medicare. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said Democrats would be more likely to improve the health care system, compared to 24% who said Republicans would do a better job. On Medicare, 53% said Democrats would do a better job, compared to 28% who said Republicans. The survey also found that 51% of all registered voters would vote for the Democratic House candidate tomorrow, compared to 42% who said they will vote Republican. But among "more likely voters" the GOP has a 50% to 47% edge. Among likely voters in "contested districts," Democrats have a 49%-48% edge. The CBS News/Times survey of 1,118 adults was conducted Oct. 26-28; it has a +/-3% margin of error (release, 10/29).