Healthcare Business News
Montana Sen. Max Baucus

PHA targets Senate race, seeking to knock Baucus from finance post

By Andis Robeznieks
Posted: September 21, 2012 - 10:30 am ET

Just because a politician isn't up for re-election doesn't mean he can't be targeted for defeat—as demonstrated by Physician Hospitals of America's focus on ousting Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) from his post as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

"It's all about the Senate," said Dr. Michael Russell, president of the physician-owned hospital trade association, which is holding its annual meeting in Austin, Texas. "The only way we are going to get any relief is to get rid of Max Baucus, quite frankly."

Russell was speaking during a "Political Update" session and noted that PHA "continues to fight the fight" despite the fact that it has not had much political success since limits on building new physician-owned hospitals and expanding existing ones were included in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

PHA Executive Director John Richardson ran down a list of fundraisers the group has held for GOP Senate candidates, including Rep. Denny Rehberg, who is opposing Montana's junior senator, Democrat Jon Tester.

"We need a Republican Senate," Richardson said. "We need Max Baucus not to be chairman."

Defeating Tester, Richardson said, "is a real opportunity to send Max Baucus a message." PHA will be holding another fundraiser for Rehberg in Austin on Saturday morning.

In an interview later, Russell said the issue "shouldn't be about Baucus, it should be about our patients." He added that PHA supports candidates who believe in competition and recognize physician-owned hospitals' quality and cost track record. Richardson, also in an interview later, said, "Unfortunately, some policymakers will not recognize the facts that we provide higher quality of care at lower costs." He continued: "Patients should have the choice to seek that care, but the law has restricted that choice."

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So far, PHA has helped raise $50,000 for Rehberg, Richardson said. Other GOP Senate candidates getting PHA support include incumbents Dr. John Barrasso of Wyoming, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Dean Heller of Nevada and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Richardson noted that the Finance Committee's ranking Republican, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, also is an opponent of physician hospital ownership. But, under GOP term-limit rules, Hatch would become chairman if Republicans take control of the Senate.

Also being supported is Josh Mandel of Ohio, who Richardson said "uses our issue" in campaign stump speeches.

PHA is also supporting a handful of GOP House candidates, including incumbent Diane Black of Tennessee, a nurse who Richardson said had a tough primary fight and "took a lot of flack from the hospital lobby" for supporting physician hospital ownership.

The lone Democrat getting PHA support is Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who Richardson said has been a long-time supporter of physician-owned hospitals and is likely to win re-election.

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