At their political convention this week in Boston, Democrats will argue that the party's likely nominee for president, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, has a broader, better plan than President Bush to repair the nation's healthcare system.
Democratic leaders will say Bush has done too little to address the nation's uninsured and that Kerry would expand access to some 27 million people who currently have no coverage. Lawmakers and others will also take to the stage urging voters to elect a candidate who favors embryonic stem cell research.
"The people I represent are very anxious about the future of our nation's healthcare system and its fragility and expense," said Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who is scheduled to deliver a seven-minute address July 26 on the uninsured and related issues including stem cell research.
Also in something of a coup for the Democrats, Ron Reagan-son of the late GOP hero-on July 27 will address the convention advocating loosening restrictions on stem cell research in what is being termed as a nonpolitical speech.
Ten pharmaceutical and other health sector companies-including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, Boston Scientific Corp., Merck & Co. and Pfizer-contributed a total of at least $4.1 million to the convention's host committee this year, according to the Campaign Finance Institute, a not-for-profit group affiliated with George Washington University. No hospital companies were named.
Abbott Laboratories tops the list of donors to the host committee for the upcoming Republican National Convention in New York, hav- ing given $267,500 so far this year, and two other health sector companies-Amgen and AstraZeneca-are also among the top 10 contributors to the Republicans.
As the Democratic National Convention kicks off, the American Hospital Association, along with several other industry trade groups, will host a poolside reception honoring House and Senate leaders who have made significant contributions to healthcare.
Led by Kerry, Democrats will make the pitch that repealing recent tax cuts for the wealthiest 3% of Americans can finance Kerry's 10-year, $895 billion healthcare reform plan. Among advocates for that plan is Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who will also address the convention when she introduces her husband.
Major reform on the level Kerry proposes will not be an easy sell, Republicans said last week (See editorial, p. 20).
"In the minds of the American people, we've been there and done that and it's a failure," said Greg Crist, a spokesman for the GOP House conference. "It didn't work with Hillary and it won't work with Kerry."
If Kerry's vision for healthcare were enacted, the federal government would pick up 75% of medical bills exceeding $50,000 a year, a kind of re-insurance for private plans that would help them pay for catastrophic cases and ideally prevent dramatic premium increases.
The Kerry healthcare platform also includes provisions to reform the medical liability system, but it would not cap the amount of noneconomic damages plaintiffs can receive in malpractice cases (July 12, p. 10).
Republicans view that as a vulnerability, too, especially with North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, a trial lawyer, sharing the ticket with Kerry. "Don't think Americans won't see and be reminded that we've got a trial lawyer, a personal injury lawyer, vying for the No. 2 slot in the land," Crist said.
On the fourth day of the convention, several Democratic lawmakers and the consumer group Families USA will host a forum on "America's healthcare crisis." Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) is scheduled to speak at the event, as are several other lawmakers, party officials and ordinary citizens talking about the difficulties of obtaining insurance and quality care.
Kerry's plan to help such people "may have a high price tag, but so did that tax cut for the highest 3% at a time when we were asking our service members to sacrifice," Baldwin said. "Surely, now we can sacrifice to the extent of repealing tax cuts for the very wealthiest in order to secure insurance for 27 million people."