Healthcare on the defense at DNC
After listening to days of reform bashing, expect loyalists to fight back hard
The political winds are pushing healthcare reform to the top of the agenda this week in Charlotte, N.C., as the Democratic faithful gather there for the Democratic National Convention. The DNC is expected to feature speech after speech by leading Democrats alternately touting the 2010 federal healthcare overhaul and blasting Medicare and Medicaid reform proposals from Republicans. Although Obama campaign organizers were mum about the extent of the healthcare focus, observers expected it will only grow following a Republican National Convention last week that featured a thorough thrashing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (See story, p. 10).
“My sense is yes, it will be a significant issue and was before the Republicans started to talk about it in the last two days,” Meghan Finegan, a spokeswoman for the Service Employees International Union, said about the prominence of healthcare policies at the Democratic convention.
The pre-election gathering of the Democratic faithful will feature many of the leading gubernatorial and congressional voices on healthcare, as well as President Barack Obama, for whom the Affordable Care Act is seen as a defining domestic policy achievement (See chart, p. 9).
However, many of the provider groups that were critical to that law’s enactment will be absent. That marks a change for some groups from previous conventions and has raised some eyebrows because the national news coverage could present an opportunity to educate the public about a law that is still opposed 47.9%-42.1%, according to the Aug. 29 RealClearPolitics poll of polls.
“If you’re one of those specialties that wants this law to move forward in implementation, you absolutely have to be out front and support it,” said Julius Hobson, former lobbyist for the American Medical Association. And that level of support would entail explaining the many provisions of the law—both popular and controversial—to the media covering the national conventions, said Hobson, now a senior policy adviser in the Washington office of the law firm Polsinelli Shughart.
The AMA was one of the provider groups that led the congressional push to narrowly enact the healthcare overhaul after a yearlong pitched legislative battle. But that group is one of several provider groups that are sitting this convention out, despite regularly sending representatives in previous years. An AMA spokeswoman declined to comment on why the group opted out of attending this year.
Another provider group that was key to the law’s enactment but is ducking the conventions this year is the Catholic Health Association, the largest solely not-for-profit hospital association in the country. The CHA’s late support for the Affordable Care Act was seen as critical to the last-minute switch in favor of the legislation by a group of Catholic Democrats, who allowed it to clear the House by seven votes. But the provider group decided against attending this year, despite sending representatives to the 2008 Democratic convention.
CHA spokesman Fred Caesar said the organization decided “the conventions are not the forum that will make a difference.” Instead, the group has sought to educate the public about the law’s provisions at smaller gatherings nationwide, such as an Aug. 17 speech to more than 100 Cleveland community leaders by Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the CHA.
To Virginia Gray, Winston professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, provider groups’ avoidance of the conventions is the latest example of their post-enactment view of the law. “At the time of passage, they did a lot of lobbying and they ran a lot of ads,” Gray said. “So they felt like they did their part then; they probably kind of feel like it’s the president’s job now.”
Backing up Obama and other elected Democrats this week will be some of the liberal advocacy groups that pushed for enactment and have funded many of the post-passage publicity campaigns supporting the law. Their signature event, jointly sponsored by the SEIU and Families USA and is set to feature elected officials and advocacy group leaders, is touted as a celebration of the law and bulwark against a Republican presidential ticket that has pledged to repeal it.
For their part, the advocacy groups backing the healthcare law were understanding of provider advocates’ reticence to promote the law to a skeptical public. “For each of these organizations, they often balance considerations about their relationships to leaders in both parties,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA.
Republicans also are expected to have a physical presence in the city similar to the Democrats’ “war room” last week in Tampa, Fla., but the details were not complete by deadline.
As Democrats descend on the Time Warner Cable Arena for their convention, provider groups will be noticeably absent.