The Group Health Association of America is launching a lobbying campaign to get its message to lawmakers and counter what it calls massive misinformation efforts by insurers and the American Medical Association.
"We must improve both the quality and reach of our communications," George Halvorson, the new GHAA chairman and president of HealthPartners in Minneapolis, told some 2,000 GHAA members gathered in Miami Beach, Fla., for their annual institute.
According to Mr. Halvorson, insurers are spending $14 million and the AMA is spending $10 million to influence lawmakers and the public on healthcare reform issues. A GHAA spokesman said the group hadn't determined a budget for its countercampaign. Mr. Halvorson also didn't specify how much GHAA would spend on the effort, but he said it wouldn't come close to the insurers' and AMA's spending.
For the first time, GHAA is asking members to converge on Washington for a "national lobby day" this week. It has arranged discount hotel and airfare rates.
The organization also is asking its members to join in a grass-roots effort to influence local politics. "We have never asked our members to do that," Mr. Halvorson said.
Starting with a bare-bones legislative staff of four, in eight months GHAA has cobbled together a legislative department of 13 people, including administrative support. It is headed by Vice President Diana Jost, former lobbyist for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, and staffed by other former Washington lobbyists.
"There are still a couple of openings," said Julie Goon, GHAA's director of legislative affairs.
The legislative department is leading an unprecedented "focused industry effort" to educate lawmakers, Ms. Goon said. It is distributing a "grass-roots manual" to prepare members for visits to their representatives when the lawmakers are home on congressional recesses and weekends.
Mr. Halvorson cited the AMA's ad that asks, "Would you rather be treated by an M.D. or an M.B.A.?" as "a clear and deliberate distortion of what we do."
"It's also important for Congress to realize how many Americans are enrolled in HMOs," Ms. Goon said. "We have become a choice for over 45 million people.
"Yet there are a number of things going on in Congress that would inhibit our ability to deliver cost-effective, high-quality care," she said.
GHAA's campaign is "an educational effort. It's not clear that Congress really understands" managed care, she said.