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No Rest for Health Care Lobbyists

After spending the past year pushing relentlessly to get health care legislation over the finish line, Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, might be tempted to take a break.

Instead, Pollack is looking ahead to the task of implementing the complicated reform law that will involve enrolling more than 32 million Americans in health care plans. So, he’s starting a new venture called Enroll America to help people navigate the new rules.

“We’re going to try and make this as user-friendly as possible,” said Pollack, who attended President Barack Obama’s White House signing of the health care bill this week.

Pollack is just one of the many activists on both sides of the health care issue who have no plans to disappear even as the Congressional fight over health care may be finally coming to a close. Some advocacy groups will focus on the November elections, while others will deal with the substance of the new law.

Pollack said his new organization would be set up as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that would be a collaborative effort involving drug and insurance companies as well hospitals and community centers.

“It will include some strange bedfellows,” Pollack said, noting that he already sat down with Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans.

AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach confirmed that his industry group would participate in Enroll America.

Pollack does not intend to step down from his position at Families USA, but he will play a role in overseeing the new group, which he intends to exist for about two years.

He said Families USA will also continue to be involved in health care reform, pivoting from lobbying Congress to spearheading a public education program. The group intends to hold what Pollack called “media-centric events” around the country to explain the massive health care overhaul.

While Pollack’s new group will approach health care from the consumers’ point of view, another coalition will be working with health care providers to smooth the implementation of the new law.

The Partnership for Quality Care includes the Service Employees International Union, the largest union of health care workers, as well as medical providers such as Kaiser Permanente, Catholic Healthcare West and the Greater New York Hospital Association.

“We dealt with the issue of insurance reform. Now we have to deal with the way care is delivered,” said Dennis Rivera, chairman of the Partnership for Quality Care and SEIU Healthcare.

Rivera said the union is also undertaking the formidable task of trying to explain the law to the public.

“We have massive confusion about what is in the bill,” he said. “We have to fill that gap.”

A number of groups that have been active in the health care fight will now likely segue into more campaign-oriented activities as the midterm elections approach.

SEIU leaders have made it clear that they intend not only to work for lawmakers who voted for the health care overhaul but also against Democrats who opposed the bill.

“There are Members who need to know working families will no longer have their backs,” SEIU spokeswoman Lori Lodes said.

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