As lawmakers attempt to start writing healthcare reform legislation this month, the American Hospital Association hopes to flood Congress with millions of letters urging members to back universal coverage and reject price controls.
The effort is part of the AHA's healthcare reform campaign, which was kicked off last week with a satellite broadcast to hospitals around the country. The group hopes to mobilize not only hospital executives, but also 4 million hos pital employees, trustees and volun teers.
To aid grass- roots lobbying, the AHA has a toll-free number, 1-800- 669-4AHA, that people can call to automatically send a letter to their representatives and senators con veying the AHA's message. The let ter says healthcare reform should guarantee cover age to every Amer ican and foster community-care networks. It also warns against cut ting Medicare and Medicaid and adopting national price controls.
At a time when many special-inter est groups are "do ing little more than shooting down ideas that af fect their bottom line," hospitals can send a more positive message to Capitol Hill, AHA President Richard Davidson told viewers.
The AHA plans to reinforce its grass-roots push with advertising. Last month, the organization ran its first television ad in three markets-Dallas; Topeka, Kan.; and Macon, Ga.-where key Democrats were undecided on the issue of universal coverage, said Richard Wade, AHA's senior vice president of communications.
Although no new ads have been produced, the organization may do more targeted messages on issues ranging from Medicare cuts to national healthcare spending limits, Mr. Wade said.
The ad, which cost $87,300, warned that some interest groups were pressing Congress to abandon universal coverage.
"Every member of Congress has the security of guaranteed coverage. Don't you deserve it, too?" the voice-over asked.
The AHA campaign opened during a week when support for President Clinton's health plan slid dramatically in the polls, and the outcome of reform in Congress appeared uncertain.
The House Ways and Means Committee's health subcommittee put off the scheduled start of the drafting of healthcare legislation because of the inability of Democratic members to reach an accord on a starting point for the bill.
Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-Calif.) was pushing a proposal that would guarantee coverage to all Americans either through the workplace or a federal program called Medicare Part C. Under the plan, providers would get Medicare-type rates from all payers and health spending would be budgeted. Late last week, subcommittee members were trying to modify the proposal to strike an accord. But the gridlock triggered speculation that the panel would be forced to hand off the bill-writing task to the full committee.
That's what happened in the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee. The legislative drafting will bypass the subcommittee and move directly to the full committee, which is chaired by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.).
Meanwhile, the warring over various approaches to reform continued, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce voting against employer-mandated insurance as a means of achieving universal coverage. The Jackson Hole Group, which is credited with spawning the idea of managed competition, also announced at a Senate Finance Committee hearing that it had withdrawn its support for the mandate.
After a conference call with caregivers around the country, President Clinton last week said he still was optimistic about his reform plan, despite a Washington Post-ABC News poll showing that 48% of 1,531 adults surveyed disapproved of the plan.