POLITICS: Are Docs Becoming Dems?
While doctors have historically been one of the Republican Party's most reliable constituencies, the age of managed care may be throwing that traditional alliance into turmoil. The Wall Street Journal reports that doctors "find their incomes and decision-making authority curbed by powerful managed care companies and insurance firms -- which have made their own substantial investment in campaign contributions to the Republican Party. Aghast that the GOP leadership hasn't brought managed care to heel, physicians are crossing party lines for help, and rewarding Democrats with votes and political contributions." Apparently frustrated with the GOP, the American Medical Association's political action committee, Ampac, recently made its first contribution to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA). Last week, a group of psychiatrists and other doctors -- some conservative Republicans -- organized a $100,000 dinner featuring House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) to raise money for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Texas orthopedic surgeon David Duffner said, "I'm a lot less Republican than I used to be. Increasingly, I find myself drawn to the Democratic Party." Alluding to the recent trend toward physician unionization, he added, "Republicans represent capital, and Democrats represent labor. Physicians used to be capital, but now we're labor in the view of managed care. We're fungible commodities. So if they drop one doctor from a contract, they just get another, even if it means that a family that has been coming to you for 20 years has to switch to another doctor." The Texas Medical Association's PAC has decided against giving any more money to Sens. Phil Gramm (R-TX) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) in light of their votes on the Senate managed care bill. Both, however, defended their vote on principle. Doctors "have suddenly taken a hard left, while I'm still riding the same old train," Gramm said. Hutchison added, "I support issues based on what I believe is the right solution for a given problem. Sen. Kennedy's bill will not improve the quality of health care for the American people, and that's really the issue here." But they may need not be concerned about a wholesale defection of doctors from the GOP. Doctors still "identify themselves as Republicans by two-to-one margins." The Journal notes: "Whether all this will lead to a permanent political realignment, of the sort that led black voters into the Democratic party in the 1930s, is still hard to say. Many physicians remain strong supporters of GOP state lawmakers, some of whom have pushed anti-HMO bills through the legislatures" (McGinley, 9/28).
Ganske to the Upper Chamber?
Rep. Greg Ganske (R-IA), a plastic surgeon, "confirmed Saturday that he is considering a challenge to Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin in 2002." He said, "It's a decision my wife and I will just have to sit down and talk about some family things, and we'll see at that time." For now, he is focusing on winning a fourth term in the House. He said, "My future is one election at a time. Never take anything for granted. I'm running for re-election, and I'm running hard" (CongressDaily/A.M., 9/28).