Whether spurred on by the continuing ferment of healthcare reform or to defend their turf in the next chapter of the Medicare wars, physicians, nurses and healthcare professionals are running for office this year in record numbers.
The five physicians now in Congress, including Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), could soon have plenty of company. That's fine with the American Medical Association, which runs a training school for aspiring doctor politicians (Aug. 12, p. 34). AMPAC, the association's powerful political action committee, also helps them with fund raising. But, an AMA staffer said, "we support candidates that are committed to the interests of physicians, whether or not they're physicians."
In Texas, a complicated redistricting situation means that two physicians are opposing each other in the 25th District primary. The seat will be filled after a Dec. 10 run-off election.
In another district, Gene Fontenot, a family practice physician from the Houston area, is a former hospital developer who had a role in founding two facilities: Houston Northwest Medical Center and Cypress Fairbanks Medical Center. Both are now owned by OrNda HealthCorp. Fontenot wants to reform Medicare through medical savings accounts.
Organized medicine has always enjoyed a high political profile; organized nursing has only recently joined the fray. The American Nurses Association reports proudly that its political action committee, founded in 1974, disbursed more than $1 million in 1995, "making it the third-largest health-related PAC in the country."
Nurses, the ANA says, are skeptical of "market-driven healthcare reform" and they are mobilizing to support candidates who share their views. Nursing raised its voice during the healthcare reform debate and now plays a much more active role in Washington.
The one nurse now in Congress, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), could soon be joined by four others if all win their contests.
Where physicians tend to be Republican, nurses lean even more strongly to the Democratic Party. Of the 21 physician candidates, 13 are Republican; all five nurse congressional candidates are Democrats.
The ANA has so closely aligned itself with the administration, in fact, that one Washington wag refers to it as "the distaff side of the Clinton-Gore campaign."
At the state level, candidates from healthcare are in plentiful supply. One race that bears watching is Florida's 24th House District, where Alan Levine won the Republican primary. In his working life, Levine is vice president of operations for Columbia Regional Medical Center at Bayonet Point, in Hudson. Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. executives have supported his candidacy with financial donations.