HEALTH CARE POLITICS: Tobacco, HMO Issues Losing Steam
"Concerns over [HMOs] do not appear to be electrifying voters this election season" as many Democrats had hoped, the Houston Chronicle reports. While the presidential scandal has distracted public attention away from the issue, voters also "place higher priorities on other issues such as education and the decline of moral values." Many Democrats looked to the North Carolina Senate race between John Edwards (D) and Lauch Faircloth (R) "as a test case" on the HMO reform issue. But, as Ferrel Guillory, director of the Southern Politics, Media and Public Life program at the University of North Carolina, said of the N.C. Senate candidates, "They are not debating health care every day. You would have to stretch it some to say this is a referendum on health care or HMOs." The health care insurance industry, however, has "not forgotten" the patients' rights issue. Interest groups "blitzed North Carolina and other states in September," giving $35 million nationwide to candidates this election cycle, "with 58% of contributions going to Republicans." Mark Merritt of the American Association of Health Plans predicted that 80% of those candidates focusing on anti-managed care themes would lose in November (Roth, 10/23).
Up In Smoke?
Likewise, the Wall Street Journal reports that tobacco is becoming the "vanishing issue of 1998, ignored and forgotten." The Kentucky U.S. Senate race illustrates the point. Reps. Jim Bunning (R) and Scotty Baesler (D) are running to succeed tobacco champion Wendell Ford (D) in the Senate. Baesler is himself a tobacco grower, yet the issue simply will not hold with voters. Kentucky tobacco farmer Leo Mayer said of the two candidates, "They'd both take care of us on that." The candidates agree, preferring to debate other issues. Baesler said, "Jim hasn't voted against tobacco, so you can't point to anything that puts him on the other side" of the issue. Bunning said, "There is no issue. We both have the same position" (Taylor, 10/23).