Health Care Stakeholders Scramble After GOP Win in Massachusetts

Posted January 20, 2010 at 11:42am

Industries and groups with a stake in the outcome of the health care reform debate hastily regrouped Wednesday to determine their next move in the aftermath of the Massachusetts Senate election.

“Meetings are happening everywhere in this town,— said Ralph Neas, president of the National Coalition on Health Care, which has been supporting overhaul efforts.

Neas said he was disappointed in the outcome of the Massachusetts race in which Republican Scott Brown defeated Democrat Martha Coakley, and therefore deprived Senate Democrats of the supermajority they had to push through health care reform and other measures.

Neas said that while there was no consensus on the next move, he also predicted that major interest groups as well as the Democratic leaders will try to find a way shortly to push through health care legislation.

“I don’t think that disappointment has led to anyone giving up the fight,— said Neas, who worked as chief counsel to the last Republican Senator from Massachusetts, Edward Brooke.

One option being considered, Neas said, is to have the House pass the Senate version and then have both chambers approve a reconciliation bill that includes compromises now being negotiated. Reconciliation measures only require a majority vote in the Senate and would not require Brown’s support, although Neas stressed he should be present to vote on it.

Another option making the rounds of K Street firms is the idea of Congress passing a slimmed-down version of health care reform.

One health care lobbyist said many of those interested in the legislation are now reviewing the various options with an eye on how it affects them.

“They are prepping to protect themselves and their interests,— said the lobbyist. But the lobbyist added that it will take a week to assess the fallout from the election.

“Emotions are running high, and people need to take a deep breath,— the lobbyist said.

On Wednesday, a number of liberal groups issued releases trying to get their message out and urging Congress to press on with health care and dismissing the notion that the Massachusetts race was a referendum on health care.

“Congress must keep going and finish reform right,— said Richard Kirsch, national campaign manager for Health Care for America Now, which is bankrolled by unions and other liberal organizations. Kirsch said that “Tuesday’s vote was not a referendum on health care reform. It was a referendum on a particular candidate in a climate in which people, hard-pressed by the economy, are impatient for change.—

Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards said she was disappointed with the result of the election. But she added, “while we respect the choice of the people of Massachusetts, the fight for affordable, quality health care coverage for all, including women’s reproductive health, is bigger than any one election.—

Planned Parenthood and other abortion-rights groups had vigorously opposed restrictions on abortion coverage in the House-passed health care bill. They also were not thrilled with the Senate provisions but believed they could improve on it.

Anti-abortion groups opposed how the Senate approached coverage of abortion.

Health care providers as well as a wide range of other business and ideological groups have invested considerable time and effort in the health care legislation as it moved through Congress.

Drug companies, led by the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America, had supported the legislation after reaching a deal with the White House to chip in $80 billion to defray costs of Medicare drug costs.

The major hospital groups, which agreed to $150 billion in savings, had also signed off on the legislation as had the senior citizens group AARP and the American Medical Association.

On the other hand, major business groups, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has vigorously opposed the legislation and spent millions of dollars on ad campaigns to try to scuttle the measure. The chamber also underwrote ads in Massachusetts supporting Brown, who pledged on the campaign trail to oppose the current health care measure.

Other conservative groups also have spearheaded media and grass-roots campaigns to try to sink the health care initiative.

One of those groups is Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, largely funded by former hospital magnate Richard Scott, which has spent about $1 million a month on advertising since last March.

Scott said the election was a “wake-up call— for Democrats in Congress, who he warned should not try to use procedural maneuvers to ram the bill through.

“I think what they need to do is start all over,— he said.

Scott said he planned to continue his advertising campaign as lawmakers regrouped.

Neas acknowledged the difficulty that proponents have had in selling proposed changes in the health care system.

“I think the proponents have not been successful in conveying how much there is in the measure for every American,— he said. He also said the bill could be improved “in terms of costs and affordability.—