Health­care takes stage at the RNC

In­dus­try lob­by­ists tak­ing back­seat at con­ven­tions

Modern Healthcare - - FRONT PAGE - Jes­sica Zig­mond

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.

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