The stakes couldnt be higher for the industry in this years elections.
According to the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, a frequently updated survey conducted by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, American voters across party lines rank the war in Iraq and healthcare as the top two issues in the presidential race. In fact, for Democrats, the same percentage of respondents mention Iraq and healthcare: 42%. This is a first since the poll has been taking the pulse of the electorate, according to the foundation.
And a recent poll, conducted by the AHA, shows that voters in early primary states actually want to hear the candidates talk about health reform more so than any other topic (See p. 30).
Mark Mellman, president and CEO of the Mellman Group and a leading public opinion researcher, said that for the first time in more than 15 years, the presidential field is poised to make health reform the No. 1 issue with voters. Theres no question that its going to be very important, he said. Healthcare reform is very high on the agenda for action come 2009.
Tracking voters concerns, Mellman said that three topics have become front and center with voters: the cost of healthcare, the 47 million Americans who lack insurance and concerns over who is making care decisions.
Those three are the big, preeminent concerns of the public, and theyre coming to a head in this election, Mellman said.
Given Clintons commitment to universal coverage, she is a natural choice for industry donations, Raske said. My expectation is she will get (reform) accomplished. A lot of people will be gravitating toward her.
Her first plan may have failed and history will take note, but shes learned a lot from that failure and so did her team, Raske said, and that will come to bear in developing future plans ahead.
And its clear, at least for now, that Clinton is one of the primary front-runners among healthcare executives from all over the industry.
Personifying the shift this year, Robert Sheehy, CEO of the UnitedHealthcare division of UnitedHealth Group, gave $4,600 to Clinton. During the 2004 race, he gave to the Bush-Cheney ticket.
Clintons supporters also include Frederick Graefe, a healthcare attorney in Washington, who donated $4,600; Jeffrey Romoff, CEO of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, $2,000 (although he also gave $1,000 to Democratic Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware); and Melinda Hatton, the AHAs general counsel and Washington lobbyist, $1,000.
Healthcare heavyweights are clearly supporting the candidates who wield the most power inside the Beltwayand have the greatest chance of becoming president, Mary Boyle, vice president of communications with Common Cause, a not-for-profit lobbying organization in Washington, said in an interview.
The impetus to donate money goes beyond healthcare policy reform, Boyle said. Its more about whos in power, as opposed to which party someone likes, or what the specific healthcare platforms are. In hedging their bets on the most likely winners, these CEOs and other healthcare leaders in search of gaining access and influence are hoping to get an open door to the White House, Boyle said.
There are lots of big corporations looking for somebody to provide some relief from their own insurance-cost dilemma, which is why healthcare will be an essential issue in the presidential primary season as well as the general election, Raske said.
Between now and the primaries and general election, the candidate who is best positioned to enact universal health insurance by the end of the first term in office will be the candidate who wins the election, Raske predicted.
The healthcare industry has taken some public hits recently: high prescription costs and the negative publicity around the Medicare bill that the drug companies lobbied heavily for. It doesnt shock me that executives are a little sensitive around this issue, Boyle says.
Some givers are very proud and raise money like crazy, Boyle said. Clinton has her Hillraisers, and top contributors to Giulianis camp are known as Sluggers or All-Stars.