Healthcare lobbyists are hopeful that having Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the White House will spell relief from what they consider to be the iron-handed, regulatory approach of the Clinton administration.
"What we've seen before (under Clinton) is more of a demonization of healthcare," ranging from HMO-bashing to rigorous Medicare fraud enforcement, said Mary Grealy, president of the Healthcare Leadership Council, a coalition of executives mostly from drug and insurance companies.
"We're hoping that what we'll see (from Bush) is a different tone, more of a partnership between the administration and the private sector," Grealy said.
"If the president sets that tone (by creating consensus), then there may be hope for balanced discussion and policy, and that's good news," said Karen Ignagni, president of the American Association of Health Plans.
Bush could begin with coverage for the uninsured, an idea embraced by Democrats and Republicans, healthcare lobbyists said.
"Coverage for the uninsured is certainly a good bridge issue," said Herb Kuhn, vice president of advocacy at Premier, a hospital group purchasing organization.
Bush's plan to expand coverage includes tax credits, purchasing cooperatives, medical savings accounts and the State Children's Health Insurance Program.
Bush also has placed a heavy emphasis on Medicare reform. Bush's Medicare plans rely on the participation of private-sector insurers, such as Medicare HMOs.
It's unclear how Bush will approach two thorny issues for HMOs--managed-care reform and an antitrust exemption for physicians to collectively bargain with health plans.
As governor, Bush signed into law a bill that gave limited antitrust relief to physicians. However, a managed-care reform law that allowed Texans to sue their HMOs took effect without Bush's signature.