PATIENTS’ RIGHTS: Political Pros Say GOP Is Vulnerable
Republican political "strategists conceded [yesterday] that their party was vulnerable on managed care legislation and needed to pass a credible bill before the November elections or risk political punishment," the New York Times reports. Speaking at a Families USA-American Medical Association patients' rights forum, GOP media consultant Rick Reed said, "It's very important for Republicans not to come up with some token effort, because we are perceived as the party that doesn't care about the issue. This issue can only intensify at this point" (Alvarez, 7/10). Bob Castro, a GOP pollster with Luntz Research Companies, said of patients' rights: "This is an issue with legs." Democratic media consultant Bob Shrum said, "The agenda that's been set has largely been set ... by the president, by Democrats" ("Inside Politics," CNN, 7/10). Democratic pollster Mark Mellman said, "Democrats can cast their proposal as the government using its policing and regulatory powers to set new rules for HMOs." This strategy may be better than the one President Clinton tried to use in pushing his 1994 health plan. That plan, Mellman noted, was seen by the public as an attempt to use "the government's 'bureaucratic and programmatic powers' to set up a large new bureaucracy, which many opposed" (Zitner, Boston Globe, 7/10). Mellman also said the public sees Democrats as "more likely to be concerned about" health care, a "difference ... worth from 15 to 25 percentage points in the polls" (Godfrey, Washington Times, 7/10).
CNN's Bruce Morton reported, "Many voters feel the quality of health care is declining. Right now, the focus is on managed care, or HMOs." Yesterday, Mellman said, "People believe that the reason the quality of care has declined is fundamentally one reason, and that's greed" ("Inside Politics," 7/10). "People are willing to have the government intervene because they can see no other way out of this market skew," Castro said (CongressDaily/A.M., 7/10).
Last night, PBS "NewsHour" reporter Susan Dentzer provided an overview of the HMO reform issue. On its political impact: "I think that many politicians hope it will become the hot issue, and others, of course, fear that it will become the hot issue. It certainly is playing very actively in a lot of state races, a lot of gubernatorial races around the country. Candidates for governor are coming out and saying that they are in favor of these kind of protections at the state level. Already ... some of these protections have been adopted at the federal level. ... So I think that people want to fight the battle over it. With these few legislative days left to get this kind of complex legislation through ... [it] would be a tall order and it may be that we'll be back fighting it again next year." Separately on "NewsHour," Families USA Executive Director Ron Pollack and Health Insurance Association of America CEO Bill Gradison debated managed care reform. Click here to read a transcript (7/9).
Message From Steve Forbes
Magazine publisher Steve Forbes yesterday said medical savings accounts "are a must for any plan to reform health care," the Washington Times reports. Forbes said, "We have ... to make it very clear and simple that genuine medical savings accounts must absolutely be the centerpiece of any health care reform legislation that Congress passes." Karen Kerrigan, president of the Small Business Survival Committee, urged Republicans not to give in to political pressure by endorsing health care mandates favored by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and other Democrats. "I know Republicans want to get this issue behind them because they think it can be used as a potent political issue in the campaigns, but then again it could come back to bite them if they pass ... health care reform that hurts their traditional base." Christian Coalition Executive Director Randy Tate said his group will push for inclusion of MSAs in any health care legislation (7/10). Forbes "said his tax-exempt Americans for Hope, Growth and Opportunity will be running radio ads in support of MSAs and against regulation-heavy health care reforms" (Rovner/Carney, CongressDaily, 7/9).
More Debate About Costs
Today's Charlotte Observer looks at the ongoing debate over how much managed care reform would cost workers and businesses. Mark Pauly, director of health studies at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, said it is difficult to estimate costs of allowing patients to sue their HMOs "because it is bounded by infinity. It's just potentially enormous." Pauly added, "Employers, and for that matter, unions, fear that it is open-ended and uncertain. Employers, particularly in small and mid-sized businesses, are put at risk for doing what you thought was a favor for your workers" (Rankin, 7/10).
Today's National Journal reports that Phoenix, AZ-based DCI Co. has been hired by the Health Benefits Coalition "to help fuel opposition" to patients' rights legislation. The group, headed by "a prominent Republican political operative," is working to "foment opposition in three states -- Maine, Missouri and North Carolina -- where the coalition has been airing radio spots." DCI previously worked to generate public opposition to tobacco legislation (7/10 issue).
And More Editorials
Two more newspapers weigh in on patients' rights:
- Florida Times-Union: "Congress should give careful, perhaps prayerful, consideration to where it will go next before enacting legislation that will curb or curtail managed care. The best answer in the long run probably is not less health care choice, but more" (7/10).
- Wichita Eagle: "[W]hile some additional oversight is justified and needed, Congress shouldn't mistake the opinion polls as a mandate for massive government intervention a la Hillary Clinton. Instead, Congress should focus on modest, targeted measures and leave the bulk of reforming to free-market forces, not Washington bureaucrats" (7/9).