Your Healthcare Dollars at Work

Brad Cain, for Health Plan Insider , October 31, 2007

The presidential campaigns of Democratic and Republican contenders are in full swing and healthcare is again a hot-button issue among the candidates. . .and their key fundraisers. In an analysis for the New York Times, the Washington, DC-based Center for Responsive Politics found that spending patterns have shifted as several contenders for the Democratic nomination have made healthcare reform a central plank in their platform.

The newspaper reported this weekend that hospitals, health plans, doctors and drug-makers contributed more than $11 million to candidates from both parties through the first nine months of the year. New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton raked in $2.7 million of the $6.5 million raised by all the Democratic hopefuls, while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney--who made healthcare reform a central part of his Bay State legacy--raised $1.6 million to lead all Republican candidates during the same time period. Illinois' Democratic Senator Barrack Obama raised the second highest total among the candidates with $2.2 million in contributions from the healthcare sector.

The totals represent not only an increase in spending, but also a shift from recent patterns that saw Republican candidates reaping the greatest percentage of healthcare-related campaign contributions. In the 2004 election cycle, Republican candidates received 56 percent of the contributions from health plans, 52 percent of the donations made by hospitals and nursing homes, 62 percent of the contributions from individual healthcare professionals and 66 percent of the dollars contributed by pharmaceutical companies and medical products manufacturers.

A similar pattern existed in the 2000 campaign cycle, according to the Center, whose research shows Republican candidates taking the same or higher percentage of the money donated by these contributors in that election.

The increased interest in the candidates by healthcare contributors mirrors the general public's growing interest in healthcare reform. A recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that healthcare was the top domestic issue weighing on voters' minds--regardless of their political leanings. Released earlier this month, the survey found that three in ten respondents identified healthcare as the top issue that the president and Congress must address. The war in Iraq was the most often cited issue.Like campaign contributors, a large percentage survey respondents (42 percent) identified Sen. Clinton as the candidate placing the greatest emphasis on healthcare as part of their campaign.

Far fewer respondents, however, say a candidate actually represents their views on healthcare. Overall, 23 percent of the respondents said Clinton represented their views, while 8 percent identified with Obama and 4 percent with former North Carolina Senator John Edwards. Of the Republican candidates, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was identified by 5 percent of the respondents, followed by 2 percent identifying with the healthcare views of Mitt Romney.

With the primaries set to begin in a little over two months and an on-going fight between President Bush and Congress over the reauthorization of the SCHIP program, don't expect healthcare to fade from the spotlight anytime soon.

Brad Cain is editor of California Healthfax and executive editor for managed care with HealthLeaders Media. He may be reached at .

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