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Health Sector Gets Busy in ’08 Race

With health care reforms quickly becoming a cornerstone of the 2008 White House hopefuls’ domestic proposals, health industry groups and their lobbyists already are trying to make sure candidates in both parties keep their interests in mind along the campaign trail.

And since many of those candidates also happen to be sitting Members of Congress, health care lobbyists have reached out on more immediate legislative matters in the hope that getting a would-be president to champion their cause will help get it over the finish line even before next year.

Candidates from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), who developed a health plan in the Bay State, to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) and their competitors have put forth outlines of how they would provide insurance for those who don’t have it and deal with rising costs in the sector.

“On every level, health care is intrinsic to every policy challenge facing the domestic world. I think all the candidates, whether they’re Democratic or Republican, get that,” said health care lobbyist Chris Jennings, founder of Jennings Policy Strategies who serves as an informal health adviser to Clinton’s presidential campaign. “Sen. Clinton believes that assuring affordable, accountable and meaningful health care for all Americans should be one of the highest domestic policy priorities.”

On the other side of the aisle, Blank Rome lobbyist David Norcross, who serves as an adviser to the Romney presidential campaign, said Romney’s plan in Massachusetts and a health care initiative in California both showcase “private market involvement” as a hallmark of GOP proposals. Democratic initiatives, he said, are likely to focus more on government programs.

But no matter the proposals, “everybody’s going to acknowledge that the issue is front and center this campaign,” he said.

Chip Kahn, president of the Federation of American Hospitals, agreed.

“I think for the first time, really since 1992, the health care coverage issue is going to be part of the policy mix in the presidential race at all levels of the race,” he said. “It already is part of the mix.”

Because of that, Kahn’s industry organization is in the earliest stages of working with a consumer advocacy group, Families USA.

Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said his group, which does not endorse any candidates, is reaching out to organizations such as Kahn’s to make sure presidential candidates on both sides of the political spectrum keep health care at the top of the agenda. Pollack said he already is working on an effort for this fall to get all of the candidates to take part in public discussions in Washington, D.C., and in the first primary and caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” he said. “I think this year will be unprecedented in terms of the intensity of the concern over health care.”

When it comes to legislation this year, Missy Jenkins, vice president of federal lobbying for the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, said her group, along with a coalition pushing for legislation that would allow for generic versions of biotech drugs, has met with presidential candidates such as Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) to discuss the effort.

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