Blog: Playing politics in Montana

Physician Hospitals of America says that by supporting the Republican opponent of the junior senator from Montana, it's hoping to send a message to the state's senior senator, Democrat Max Baucus, that "anti-competitive healthcare" will no longer be tolerated.

The PHA, an association for physician-owned hospitals, is backing GOP Congressman Denny Rehberg over Democratic incumbent John Tester in the Senate race and is planning to host a breakfast fundraiser for him in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 22—the morning after it concludes its annual conference. The PHA also hopes to slice away at the Democrats' Senate majority helping to keep Baucus in the Senate Finance Committee chairman's seat.

In an e-mailed news release promoting the Rehberg fundraiser, the PHA says Baucus "has time and time again blocked the necessary reform needed to provide relief for physician-owned hospitals." The group has been at odds with Baucus for several years over the senator's opposition to physician-owned hospitals.

Since the PHA was unable to get rid of Section 6001 through litigation, the strategy makes sense—but doctors don't always get what they want from politicians they support.

Case in point: Jim Bunning, the Hall of Fame baseball pitcher and former GOP senator from Kentucky who was re-elected 51-49 in 2004 thanks in part to the financial support he received from physicians to defeat another physician, surgeon Daniel Mongiardo. Six years later, Bunning was filibustering to allow a 21.2% Medicare physician payment cut called for by the sustainable growth-rate reimbursement formula.

Another example is Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who has received $37,500 from the American Medical Association's political action committee, AMPAC, since 2000 for his House and Senate campaigns. Kirk is now recovering from a stroke, but in July 2011, he spoke to the American College of Surgeons and was asked what ACS members can do to effect change in Washington. Kirk replied that the ACS should exert its influence on the AMA, because, he said, it had become "an utterly politically correct organization that swings with the political winds. And patient care should not swing with the political winds."

I was going to conclude this post with information on how much other physician groups have donated to Baucus, but I'm approaching my word limit, so I will end with something I found more interesting: An update on Kirk's old boss, former Rep. John Porter (R-Ill.), who served in the U.S. House for 21 years.

A partner in the Washington office of the Hogan Lovells global law firm, Porter, according to his bio, concentrates on policy, strategy and advocacy primarily for health and education clients. I also learned he is chairman of the board of an organization called Research!America, whose slogan is "Making research to improve health a higher priority."

Porter also has advocated for increasing National Institutes of Health funding and against cutting the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's budget.

I could go on, but all I have room for is: Follow me on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks.



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