Lobbyists Ramp Up Efforts On Health Care Changes

Long before President Obama sent out the invitations for Monday's meeting on health care, major players in the debate were already lobbying on the issue.

Health care executive Rick Scott says he has put down $1.1 million of his own money this month so TV viewers across the country can see an ad from Conservatives for Patients' Rights. The ad from the group Scott founded says Americans want to choose their own doctors, have competition and know prices and performance upfront.

But that ad was countered by one from Health Care for America Now that says Scott's group is trying to block health care reform.

Health Care for America Now is a coalition of about 1,000 labor unions, progressive groups and other organizations. The gist of the ad is that Scott used to run the big hospital chain HCA, but he was ousted by the board during a federal investigation. It was the biggest health care fraud case in Justice Department history.

"Scott is a very tainted messenger," says Richard Kirsch of Health Care for America Now. "In many ways, it's really reflective of what we think is behind the opposition to health care, which is protecting profits."

But Scott defends his tenure at HCA: "We had great outcomes, we had great patient satisfaction, and nobody ever accused me of doing anything wrong."

Scott says he launched Conservatives for Patients' Rights so people could hear about an alternative to the likely Democratic plan.

"I don't know anybody else that's on the air on the conservative side now," Scott says. "There's not a bill yet. So some people are gonna wait until they know exactly what the bill is."

Kirsch says the question for the industry is: "If what Congress is going to propose is really going to take that much of my money away, do I risk going public against it and blowing up reform, and being attacked by the president for blowing up reform?"

Health Care for America Now will begin airing new ads Tuesday aimed at a handful of potential swing-vote senators.

Evan Tracey, who tracks issue advertising for the Campaign Media Analysis Group, says the more detailed the bill gets, the more emotional the debate will become.

"Obviously you have a lot of horsepower right now with the Obama administration," Tracey says. "So this could very much break along liberal and conservative lines and look a lot like a political campaign."

A national campaign consuming millions of dollars and reaching millions of Americans — even though only a few hundred lawmakers will actually get to vote on the bill.

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