The big kid on the healthcare block in political donations, the American Medical Association, again leads provider groups in its contributions to congressional and presidential candidates--but just barely.
From December 1998 through April 1, the AMA's political action committee has given $486,490 in preparation for the Nov. 7 election, according to Federal Election Commission data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Right behind the nation's largest physician organization is the American Hospital Association, with $479,049 (See chart).
In third place is the American Society of Anesthesiologists with $413,804 in PAC contributions.
If past donation patterns are any indication, the AMA has a lot more to give. In the 1998 election, the AMA outpaced the AHA by more than 2-1, at $2.3 million to just $1.1 million.
This time around, the AMA and the AHA are in a tight battle for supremacy. Through March 1, the AHA actually led the AMA in political giving, $408,619 to $313,240.
The AMA's $173,250 surge in March coincided with House and Senate talks on compromise managed-care reform legislation and the House Judiciary Committee's debate and vote on legislation exempting physicians from some antitrust laws.
The AMA supports legislation that would give patients and physicians the right to appeal health plans' denials of covered benefits, including the right to sue, as well as a measure allowing doctors to bargain collectively with health plans.
AMA officials would not comment on the association's PAC donations.
The AMA has given far more money than its nemesis on the patient and doctor measures, the American Association of Health Plans. The AAHP's PAC has given just $14,890 as of April 1. But health plans such as Aetna, at $55,150, and PacifiCare Health Systems, at $45,999, have given major sums to political candidates.
The national Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association gave $159,356 through April 1, supported by 16 Blues plans that gave separately.
Al Jackson, the AHA's vice president of political affairs and grass-roots advocacy, said the AHA and the AMA aren't in a horse race. He said the AHA PAC's early lead in political giving reflected its effort to give early in the election cycle to members of Congress who have embraced attempts to undo the Medicare payment restraints enacted under the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.
Another AHA pet cause is fighting back efforts to require reporting of medical errors.
The anesthesiologists, meanwhile, are locked in a battle with HCFA over a rule that could allow nurse anesthetists to practice without the direct supervision of anesthesiologists (March 27, p. 14). The anesthesiologists have given much more than the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, which has given $176,339.