True to its reputation as the richest healthcare interest group, the American Medical Association leads all provider groups in donations to congressional campaigns across the country with more than $1 million in contributions so far in the 2000 election.
As the country's biggest physician group continued its push for managed-care reform legislation this year, it also provided a big push for an ally in trouble.
The AMA's political action committee gave nearly $250,000 in the form of independent campaign expenditures to Rep. Marge Roukema (R-N.J.), a supporter of managed-care reform measures who was nearly defeated in her June primary campaign, according to documents filed in May with the Federal Election Commission.
Meanwhile, the American Hospital Association trails a second physician group, the American Society of Anesthesiologists, to come in third in terms of how much money the healthcare sector has contributed to campaigns.
In their quest for Medicare and Medicaid payment increases, the PACs run by the AHA and its state affiliates had contributed nearly $708,000 as of Aug. 3, according to FEC figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Managed-care and insurance companies weren't invisible, as they fought the AMA and physicians who want Congress to pass a "patients' bill of rights" package.
The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, along with its affiliates, has given a combined $530,395 to federal candidates. The biggest single health insurance contributor was Cigna HealthCare, at $257,700.
Meanwhile, the AMA's most extravagant expenditure by far was the "independent expenditure" it made on behalf of Roukema.
Considered a moderate Republican, Roukema co-sponsored and voted in favor of two bills of importance to the AMA: managed-care reform and legislation exempting physicians from antitrust law when negotiating collectively with health plans.
Roukema was nearly defeated in the GOP primary in 1998 and again in 2000 by a more conservative candidate, state Assemblyman Scott Garrett, who criticized Roukema's support of managed-care reforms as "federal intrusions in your healthcare decisions."
With the help of the AMA's $249,978 "independent expenditure" in late May, Roukema won her June 6 primary.
Independent expenditures are not subject to federal campaign laws and can't be coordinated by anybody in the campaign.
The AHA, meanwhile, is considering whether to make independent expenditures on behalf of its friends in Congress, said Richard Pollack, the AHA's executive vice president.
In recent elections, the AHA has spent money independently to support Rep. Phil English (R-Pa.) and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.).
The AHA's PAC contributions are going to lawmakers who have supported the goal of increasing Medicare hospital payments that were restrained under the provisions of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, Pollack said.
One of its donations, a $10,000 check, was given to Rep. William Thomas (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, who is expected to write Medicare-relief legislation in September.