The nation's two top healthcare reform advocates, President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, made personal appeals last week to allies to join the fight.
At a gathering of senior citizens in Edison, N.J., sponsored by the American Association of Retired Persons, Mr. Clinton said his plan was the only one that helped the elderly by offering long-term care and prescription drug benefits, and he exhorted the group to get behind it.
"I would respectfully suggest that the AARP ought to be for the only plan that helps you. Otherwise, the interest groups will convince Congress that you don't really care, and you will lose those parts of our plan," he said.
At a Washington meeting of the Group Health Association of America, Mrs. Clinton went even further, encouraging the more than 1,000 managed-care executives in attendance to engage in an advertising war with opponents of the administration's plan.
Mrs. Clinton told the group that television ads sponsored by the Health Insurance Association of America, featuring "Harry and Louise," presented a "pretty unveiled attack on managed care."
"There should be, in my view, advertisements running that show the high level of satisfaction in most (HMOs), that what you are doing is providing healthcare that people are feeling more and more comfortable with," she said.
GHAA President Karen Ignagni said the organization had no plans to develop an advertising campaign, pursing instead a more "nuts-and-bolts strategy with our members to tell our story in our communities."
But Ms. Ignagni said the administration's emerging strategy of appealing directly to interest groups for help in the battle for healthcare reform-as the president did earlier this month at the American Hospital Association meeting (Feb. 7, p. 2)-was a positive sign.
"The White House is trying to identify where they have a common cause with various groups," Ms. Ignagni said. "If you believe there has to be a coalition of interest groups to get a bill passed, it makes a great deal of sense."
In the White House's rekindled campaign for its healthcare reform plan, Mr. and Mrs. Clinton, along with other administration officials, are also on the offensive against alternative reform plans, which they have said wouldn't be able to ensure private universal coverage.
Mrs. Clinton told the GHAA, for example, that imposing a mandate for coverage on individuals would require a complex tracking system.
"It would require, in our view, the (Internal Revenue Service) to engage in an enormous administrative oversight of our healthcare system," she said.
But while such swipes drew applause, the roster of foes of the president's plan continued to swell last week, as the Christian Coalition announced a $1.4 million radio advertising and grass-roots campaign against it.
The group, which describes itself as a "pro-family" citizens organization with 1 million members, said it will air radio ads opposing the Clinton plan in 18 states and 40 congressional districts and distribute some 30 million postcards to churches. It will urge individuals to mail the cards to their representatives in Washington to inform them that they oppose the plan.
The organization opposes abortion coverage in the Clinton plan, as well as the employer premium caps and other features. Ralph Reed, executive director, said that while the group wouldn't endorse a specific plan, it favored those that included medical savings accounts and tax credits to help low-income people buy insurance.