American Medical Association officials said last week that they hope any final health insurance reform compromise will include medical savings accounts, which President Clinton and leading Democrats have called a deal-breaker.
"We support the Kassebaum-Kennedy bill. We also support medical savings accounts," AMA President Lonnie Bristow, M.D., said.
The AMA has been one of the most vocal supporters of MSAs and helped get the idea included in the bill passed by the House. Senators have been less enamored of the idea (See related story, p. 3).
Asked whether the AMA would back off its support for MSAs to help get a health insurance reform bill through the legislative process, Bristow replied: "That's not a judgment for us to make. That's for Congress and the president to decide."
Opponents of the MSA clause "are giving misinformation to the public," Bristow said. "The only interest group that's threatened by MSAs is the insurance industry because they lose control of the patients."
However Congress and the White House dispose of this thorny issue, it won't be driven by poll results. Neither the Gallup Organization nor Louis Harris and Associates has any specific polling data on MSAs or the Kassebaum-Kennedy health insurance reform bill.
Harvard pollster Robert Blendon, who specializes in American attitudes on controversial health and social issues, said he is working on a poll, but the results won't be out until July.
"All we know is, from earlier health reform, portability is very popular," Blendon said. MSAs are "a new idea and a new approach. Most people will be very confused and will not understand it. We'll try to explain it and get a response."
The public isn't aware of the issues in the Kassebaum-Kennedy bill, named after its Senate sponsors, Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.), because the press and political leaders haven't given it top billing, Blendon said. "That's why the various interest groups can hold it hostage."
Business groups object to the enhanced mental-health coverage, which they fear will drive their premiums higher, Blendon said, while labor groups are afraid that permitting MSAs will divide up the insurance pool, making insurance more expensive for working people. MSAs are most attractive to upper-income Americans who could save some money on them, he added.