When federal lawmakers go home for their traditional August recess this week, it is likely they will see, hear and read a barrage of advertisements about managed-care regulation.
With the Senate expected to take up the issue when it returns to work next month, groups on both sides are planning to take to the airwaves and newspapers in an effort to sway public opinion and, in turn, lawmakers.
Naomi Walker, a spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO, said the labor group plans to undertake a major grassroots campaign during the recess and likely will run ads in key districts. The AFL-CIO already has spent about $1 million on ads, but Walker said it has not set a budget for more ads.
The AFL-CIO supports the managed-care regulation bill introduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass). The Kennedy bill is similar to one introduced in the House by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich). Last month the Dingell bill was defeated by a vote of 212-217. The House eventually passed a GOP measure by a slim margin, 216-210.
There also is a GOP alternative in the Senate. It is considerably less comprehensive than the Kennedy bill. Under the GOP plan, most of the "patient protections" would be extended to only the 48 million people who are in plans that are exempted from state health laws under the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act. The Kennedy plan would make it easier for patients whose treatment is delayed or denied to sue their health plans. The GOP plan does not include that provision.
Groups opposed to any managed-care regulation also will be running ads. The American Association of Health Plans is running an ad that warns that "the politicians' new laws and regulations could cause nearly 2 million hard-working American to lose their health coverage."
Another group called the Health Benefits Coalition is running $2 million worth of ads also attacking the proposals. The coalition consists of primarily business and insurance groups, including the AAHP, the Health Insurance Association of America, the National Federation of Independent Business and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It also includes one prominent provider group, San Diego-based hospital alliance Premier.
Suzy DeFrancis, a spokeswoman for the coalition, said the group likely will start a new ad campaign during the August break.
"That is usually a good time to reach (lawmakers)," DeFrancis said.