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Healthcare targets dems with dollars

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has nearly doubled the fund-raising and spending dollars of his republican counterpart, John McCain. Part of that is due to the health industry – for the first time in 16 years, democrats have surpassed republicans in campaign contributions from healthcare groups. From WHYY’s health and science desk, Kerry Grens reports on why this shift has happened.


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The past three presidential elections were a little dull as far as campaign contribution trends go – democrats reaped exactly 39% of the money contributed from heathcare groups each time. But then 2008 came, and the numbers flipped. Democratic campaigns are now enjoying a majority share of the dollars coming in – 53%.

Kettl: Part of what’s happening is the sense on the part of a lot of people that if Obama is elected, some kind of fundamental healthcare reform may actually happen this time around.

Don Kettl is a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He says the republicans thrashed the Clintons’ healthcare proposal in the 1990s, but with a majority likely in the House and Senate, things could change.

Kettl: Part of it is a sense that because it’s a more complex operation, might possibly expand coverage to more people, there’s likely to be more business, and therefore there’s a stronger interest on the part of many people in the health community to make sure that they’re in a position to be able to shape and influence the way those laws come about.

In other words, health groups want the party in power to remember them when regulations to their industry change. The shift in dollars, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, is true for doctors, hospitals, health insurance, and pharmaceutical companies. Ken Kilpatrick is the education director for the Patients and Physicians Alliance. He says for doctors, the shift more than politics – it’s also the policies democrats are offering.

Center for Responsive Politics

Campaign contributions (click for larger image). Source: Center for Responsive Politics.

Kilpatrick: Now doctors are taking a look at other issues. They don’t believe that tort reform, medical liability lawsuit abuse reform, is going to happen in the near future. So particularly in this election they’re looking at other issues like where do the candidates stand on these social issues that I appreciate, tax issues, and other issues.

Kilpatrick says that if tort reform were a front-burner issue, McCain would be more appealing to doctors. But abortion rights and health insurance are eclipsing medical liability’s importance.

Kilpatrick: Universal health care. We have some doctors who feel that is very important. They see patients who are uninsured or are not able to see patients because they are underinsured or uninsured and they would like a correction to that situation so they are now taking their views elsewhere in this particular election.

Health professional follow the trend nearly exactly, giving the majority of their 2008 contributions to democrats. Pharmaceutical companies are lagging behind slightly, split about fifty-fifty. AstraZeneca, which is this year’s sixth most generous pharmaceutical contributor at more than $700,000, gave 49% of that money to democrats. That’s up from 26% in 2004. Chip Davis, the company’s vice president for corporate external relations, says the shifting political climate does play a role in contribution strategies.

Davis: But from an AstraZeneca perspective is it in no way shape or form a determining factor in isolation. Again with the scope and the magnitude of the healthcare problems facing the US market, even by way of example if we see extensions in the margins of leadership that the democrats hold in Congress in the next session, the minority party, the republicans will have an active say in how healthcare reform moves forward.

And health groups are expecting some changes – no matter who wins the elections, says Robert Zirkelbach, the spokesman for America’s Healthcare Plans.

Zirkelbach: We think that’s positive that both candidates have made healthcare reform a priority. They have both put forth healthcare reform proposals and we look forward to working with whoever gets elected to achieve real healthcare reform.

The big unknown, of course, is where health care shakes out among a long list of industries competing for priority under the shadow of a giant economic problem.

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