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Medicare, reform, 2012 election are top topics at AMGA

By Andis Robeznieks
Posted: April 17, 2011 - 2:00 pm ET

Medicare will be the focus of the 2012 elections, Republican attacks on healthcare reform will doom Mitt Romney's chances of being the GOP presidential nominee, an agreement to raise the federal debt ceiling may include a major rollback of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and President Barack Obama's re-election depends on the strength of the economic recovery and the unemployment rate, according to speakers appearing Saturday at the American Medical Group Association's meeting in National Harbor, Md.

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The morning began with a keynote speech by Chris Matthews, host of the "Hardball" television show and a former speechwriter for then-President Jimmy Carter and staffer for the late Tip O'Neill when he was speaker of the House of Representatives. The luncheon speaker was ophthalmologist and freshman Rep. Dr. Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.), who is the wife of AMGA Chair Dr. Scott Hayworth, president and CEO of the Mount Kisco (N.Y.) Medical Group.

Rep. Hayworth said the price Obama pays for getting the GOP-led House to agree to raising the federal debt ceiling might be the repeal of major parts of the Affordable Care Act. She added that the GOP is also working on a replacement for the reform law in response to the demands made by the public in 2008 to change the nation's healthcare system.

Matthews said that GOP animosity toward the reform law has put Romney "in the crosshairs" because of the perception that the federal law is modeled after reforms made in Massachusetts while Romney was governor. But Hayworth didn't even mention Massachusetts when she said the models for the Affordable Care Act were the healthcare systems of the United Kingdom, France, Scandanavia and Japan. She explained that a reform model she liked was the Healthy Indiana Plan. Hayworth added that she would prefer that healthcare reform is driven by incentives rather than negative or punitive coercion.  

Matthews said the fate of reform will be tied to the 2012 election, and--while the president's chances for re-election were relatively strong--he is not likely to repeat the 2008 successes he enjoyed in Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia. But he also said Democrats could expect to do better in Ohio and Wisconsin in 2012 than they did in 2010. Matthews added that Obama's chances may depend on whether the unemployment rate gets below 7% and if Hillary Clinton is nominated for vice president.

 Matthews said he was "flabbergasted" by the popularity of Donald Trump among GOP voters--especially when compared to Romney and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. He dismissed the presidential ambitions of former House speaker turned healthcare advocate Newt Gingrich. "Newt Gingrich had his run," Matthews said, before adding a clarification to his remark. "I don't think he's the devil," Matthews explained. "You know why? He looks like the devil. The devil is never going to look like the devil."

 Matthews said he liked the education policies of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the son and brother of former presidents, and he said of the Bush family: "I don't think we've heard the last of them."

 He predicted Medicare will be the focus of 2012 elections as the GOP says its Medicare reform efforts are based on rescuing the economy, and Democrats will accuse the GOP of trying to dismantle a popular program.

 "My dad was the biggest Republican," but he also loved Medicare, Matthews said. He used a football analogy to describe how American voters--despite the current political turmoil--usually elect leaders who keep the government in the middle.

 "After all the fun and games, Americans are really good at democracy" and pick someone who keeps the country "between the 40-yard lines," Matthews said, noting that Obama's approval rating is now around 50%. "This country is going to be 50-50 for as long as we're around."



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