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AARP Members in California ‘Strongly Support’ Reform

After the House passed health care reform legislation on Nov. 7, mid-November has been marked by gale-force campaigns aimed at shaping public opinion as the Senate prepares to take up the debate.

AARP stands at the center of those campaigns.  Because seniors regularly vote in larger percentages than any other age group, AARP is a formidable force on Capitol Hill, and the group’s endorsement of the House’s health care reform proposal was seen as a major triumph for the Democratic leadership in Congress and the Obama administration. 

A recent survey of AARP members indicates that a significantly higher percentage of AARP’s California members (47%) strongly support the House’s health care reform package than do members nationwide (39%).  That said, strong opposition stands at 22% in both the nationwide and California surveys.

When it comes to specific components of the proposal, 77% of California AARP members said they backed the House proposal because it would prohibit insurers from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions.  No other element of the House legislation drew more support from California AARP members.

By comparison, new restrictions barring insurers from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions occupied the No. 4 slot among AARP members nationwide, with 75% of respondents saying the proposed regulation was why they supported the bill. In order, more respondents nationwide said they supported the House proposal because it would:

  • Ensure that Americans could keep their health insurance coverage if they’re happy with it (78%);
  • Require insurers to cover routing checkups and preventive care (77%); and
  • Guarantee that Americans could see the doctor of their choice (76%).

The survey indicates that California AARP members feel more informed about Democratic health care reform plans than group members nationwide: 56% of California members say they have heard a lot about reform plans, compared with 52% of members nationwide.

Despite its powerful voice in the health care reform debate, AARP has drawn criticism for its involvement in the insurance market, prompting some stakeholders to assert that AARP is selling out its members for its own business interests. 

AARP’s ability to motivate its members and sway legislators could be the deciding factor in the fate of health care reform in the Senate, especially as questions mount about how Democratic overhaul plans would affect Medicare benefits. 

Moreover, AARP and other groups pushing for health care reform will have to counter campaigns against Democratic reform plans. 

Here’s a rundown on other efforts shaping the debate on reform. 

Health Care Providers Speak Up

  • On Nov. 13, the American Medical Association launched a radio advertising campaign that urges Congress to approve legislation (HR 3961) that would avert a 21% cut in physicians’ Medicare payment rates and create a permanent payment fix. The group also sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) urging her to lead a “determined effort to secure the future of the Medicare program” (Norman, CQ HealthBeat, 11/13).
  • The National Association of Children’s Hospitals is lobbying Congress to change a measure in health care legislation that industry leaders say would reduce funding for children’s hospitals by as much as $876 million, USA Today reports. Although hospital groups in July agreed to a $155 billion reduction in federal payments over 10 years, NACH officials say that the deal severely affects children’s hospitals and could lead to reductions in services (Fritze, USA Today, 11/12).
  • The Federation of American Hospitals released a statement insisting that hospitals will not end their participation in Medicare, despite findings in a recent CMS report on the House reform bill (HR 3962) (Frates, “Live Pulse,” Politico, 11/16).
  • Representatives who voted against the House health reform bill received an average of 33% more money in contributions from the health insurance industry than those who voted for it, according to a analysis (Frates, “Live Pulse,” Politico, 11/10).

DNC Gets in the Game

  • Organizing for America, a unit of the Democratic National Committee that grew out of President Obama’s campaign, will send volunteers to the offices of 32 House Republicans whose districts backed Obama in the 2008 election, demanding their support for health reform legislation (Koffler, Roll Call, 11/12).
  • DNC will run radio advertisements this week targeting 32 Republicans who voted against the House health care reform bill (HR 3962). The ads target mostly moderate Republicans in districts that voted for President Obama in last year’s presidential election (O’Connor, “Live Pulse,” Politico, 11/16).

Republican Strategy

  • Republicans plan to host 50 in-person and telephone town-hall meetings over the next three weeks to boost opposition to the Democrats’ health reform efforts, which gained momentum after the House passed its bill (HR 3962) last week (Raju, Politico, 11/10).
  • Rep. Anh Cao (R-La.), the lone House Republican to vote for the chamber’s health reform bill, already is facing retaliation, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports. Two of his fundraisers have been canceled, and campaign contributors are now asking for their money back (McGill, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 11/10).
  • Republican lobbyist Rick Berman is adding $2 million to the health care ad budget of his Employment Policies Institute, bringing its total spending to $12 million. A new institute ad campaign in eight states warns of health reform’s costs and impact on jobs (Hunt, CongressDaily, 11/16).

Business Groups, Insurer Step Up Opposition

  • On Nov. 12, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, the National Retail Federation and other business groups announced that they will run a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign against the House health care reform bill (HR 3962). The ads will run on national cable television and in Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Virginia (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 11/12).
  • The chamber sent an e-mail seeking to raise $50,000 to pay a “respected economist” to study the impact of health reform legislation, the Washington Post reports. The e-mail also stated that the chamber would then circulate a letter “saying that the bill will kill jobs and hurt the economy.” A chamber official called the letter “inartfully worded” (Shear, Washington Post, 11/16).
  • UnitedHealth Group has sent an e-mail to its 75,000 employees asking them to write their senators and local newspapers to oppose the proposal to establish a public plan option as part of a health system overhaul, the Post reports (Eggen, Washington Post, 11/13).

Drugmakers Remain a Force

  • Administration officials are warning members of Congress “not to antagonize” the pharmaceutical industry by proposing changes to the deal the industry struck with the White House earlier this year. Some Democrats are frustrated by a report indicating that drug prices are rising at their fastest rate in years as health reform nears (Levey/Hamburger, Los Angeles Times, 11/17).
  • Several statements given by both Democrats and Republicans during final consideration of the House health reform bill (HR 3962) and then submitted for publication in the Congressional Record were ghostwritten, in whole or in part, by lobbyists working for the biotechnology company Genentech, the New York Times reports.  According to e-mail messages obtained by the Times, lobbyists drafted one statement for Democrats and a separate one for Republicans. Genentech estimates that 42 House members — 20 Democrats and 22 Republicans — incorporated some of the talking points into their remarks (Pear, New York Times, 11/15).
  • Representatives from the pharmaceutical and advertising industries are fighting a provision in the House health reform bill that would require drugmakers to disclose how much they spend on continuing medical education classes for physicians, the Wall Street Journal reports. Physicians need CME credits to keep their licenses and are prohibited from earning such credits through events and classes conducted directly by drug companies. However, doctors can earn credit from classes operated by for-profit companies or not-for-profit academic medical centers that are funded by pharmaceutical companies (Mundy, Wall Street Journal, 11/13).

Abortion-Rights Supporters Mount Lobbying Force

  • Abortion-rights supporters are organizing a “National Day of Action” for Dec. 2 in response to an amendment attached to the House health care reform bill (HR 3962) that could be included in finalized overhaul legislation, Roll Call reports. The event will include a rally at the Capitol and visits by advocates from around the country to lawmakers’ offices (Roth, Roll Call, 11/17).  Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) offered the amendment, which would explicitly bar a proposed public health insurance plan from covering abortion services. The amendment also would prohibit people who receive subsidies from purchasing private plans that cover abortion services (California Healthline, 11/11).  The coalition includes NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the National Organization for Women, the Human Rights Campaign,, the Service Employees International Union, Catholics for Choice, the National Council of Jewish Women and the American Civil Liberties Union.
  • On Nov. 17, the Center for Reproductive Rights launched television advertisements that ask voters who support abortion rights to contact senators and express their opposition to the Stupak amendment.
  • On Nov. 16, NARAL President Nancy Keenan delivered a petition to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that asks him to resist pressure to include language from the Stupak amendment in the final Senate bill. The petition includes 97,218 signatures, which were collected by NARAL and People for the American Way (Roth, Roll Call, 11/17).
  • NARAL and PPFA are threatening to withhold campaign contributions to Reps. Ciro Rodriguez (D-Texas) and Harry Teague (D-N.M.), who received funding from the groups in the past but voted for the Stupak amendment, The Hill reports (Blake, The Hill, 11/12).

New Polls

  • A Washington Post/ABC News poll indicates that 48% of U.S. residents support proposals contained in health reform legislation, compared with 49% who are opposed. The poll also reveals that two-thirds of U.S. residents back a requirement that employers with payrolls in excess of $500,000 provide health insurance for employees or face fines (Balz/Cohen, Washington Post, 11/17).
  • An Associated Press poll found that 43% of U.S. residents oppose health reform plans being discussed in Congress, compared with 41% of Americans who support them, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports. Last month, a poll found that opponents and proponents of reform were split evenly at 40% apiece (Alonso-Zaldivar/Tompson, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 11/16).

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