Healthcare takes stage at the RNC
Industry lobbyists taking backseat at conventions
Healthcare will play a prominent role at the Republicans’ big show in Tampa, Fla., this week, but that’s not due to a strong directorial effort from the industry’s main lobbying organizations.
Instead, that direction will come from the 2012 Republican National Convention’s keynote speakers, congressional lawmakers, think tanks and protesters who will make sure healthcare stays on the same level with jobs and taxes as a top domestic policy issue in this year’s campaign. Barring a disruption—or cancellation—from the approaching storm Isaac, the convention to nominate Mitt Romney as the GOP’s presidential candidate and Paul Ryan as the vice presidential candidate will include high- profile, vocal opponents of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Healthcare interest groups will have a presence in Tampa, but their involvement will be far more subdued than it was four years ago at the conventions in Denver and the Twin Cities. That’s in part because groups are wary of creating the perception that they’re spending lavishly on the political event while Americans are still struggling in a sluggish economy.
“There’s animus about special-interest lobbying in a way that crowds out the average Joe,” said Michael Franc, vice president of government studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation, which will host a few events in Florida this week.
Also, healthcare groups promoted their mes- sages in 2008 to influence the healthcare reform debate, which led to the passage of the landmark Affordable Care Act in 2010. Back then, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America hosted brunches at both conventions. This year, the group plans to send “very few” representatives to the conventions and does not have any formal events planned, said Jenni Brewer, a spokeswoman for the organization.
Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, said in an e-mail that the health insurance trade group would be “sending people to both conventions this year as we have in the past,” but would not elaborate on any plans AHIP might have scheduled for the week.
The American Hospital Association will have a few representatives in Tampa, as well as in Charlotte, N.C., for the Democratic National Convention next week, but the organization will not sponsor events at either convention. That mirrors what the organization has done in previous conventions, said Marie Watteau, an AHA spokeswoman. Meanwhile, the Federation of American Hospitals won’t be sending anyone to Tampa, and the American Medical Association and Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society don’t plan to send any representatives to either convention this year. Consumer group Families USA will host an event in Charlotte but not in Tampa.
“We’re not a partisan organization, but we are strong supporters of health reform, and, obviously, the convention in Tampa—the mantra out of almost everyone’s mouth will be let’s repeal the Affordable Care Act,” said Ron Pollack, executive director at Families USA. “That’s not a hospitable situation for us to talk about the Affordable Care Act. That’s not to say we’re not spending a lot of time in Florida and elsewhere teaching people about the Affordable Care Act.”
Republicans will use the week to highlight what they see as the failed policies of the Obama administration and promote their party platform, which includes a major revamp of Medicare that House Budget Com-
mittee Chairman Ryan (R-Wis.) outlined in his budget proposals for 2012 and 2013.
The American Action Forum and the Galen Institute, two conservative think tanks, will host healthcare-related events Monday and Tuesday. Galen’s briefing on healthcare reform will feature physician Reps. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), cochairman of the GOP Doctors Caucus, and Michael Burgess (R-Texas), chairman of the congressional healthcare caucus.
Michael Mezey, professor of political science at DePaul University in Chicago, said typically opponents of the party hosting the convention will use the week to rest and regroup. Not so this year, as Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) will lead pushback efforts from a rapid response “war room” within walking distance of the convention center; Vice President Joe Biden will appear in Tampa on the first two days of the convention; and President Barack Obama will campaign in Iowa, Colorado and Virginia.
Mezey said the biggest challenge for the GOP will be to address the gap Romney has with personal likability, where he’s about 12 points behind Obama in polls. On healthcare, that could be a tough battle.
“The basic structure of the ACA was articulated by Republicans—the idea of the exchanges,” Mezey said. “Romney had a winner and then basically switched and saw it as a loser,” he said, referring to Romney’s healthcare plan as Massachusetts governor. “Politically, this will play into the notion that you can’t believe what Romney says.”
Healthcare will be on the main stage at the GOP convention, but the direction will be given by speakers and lawmakers instead of industry interest groups.