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Lobbyists Ramp Up Efforts On Health Care Changes

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Lobbyists Ramp Up Efforts On Health Care Changes

Health Care

Lobbyists Ramp Up Efforts On Health Care Changes

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And long before President Obama sent out the invitations for yesterday's meeting on health care, major players were already lobbying on the issue. Now, those lobby campaigns are about to arrive in America's homes. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY: Health care executive Rick Scott says he's put down $1.1 million this month - his own money - so TV viewers around the country can see this ad…

(Soundbite of advertisement)

Mr. RICK SCOTT (Health Care Executive): Let's remind the politicians Americans know what works. Choice: that means choosing your own doctor. Competition: disclose prices and performance upfront. Accountability…

OVERBY: The ad comes from Conservatives for Patients' Rights, a group that Scott founded. That ad sparked this ad in response…

(Soundbite of advertisement)

Unidentified Man: Scott's former company was forced to pay $1.7 billion in penalties. Now, Rick Scott's trying to block health care reform because he and his insurance company friends make millions from the broken system we have now.

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

That made Rick Scott an irresistible target, says Richard Kirsch. He heads the national campaign for Health Care for America Now.

Mr. RICHARD KIRSCH (Health Care for America Now): Scott is a very tainted messenger, and in many ways sort of reflective, we think, is really behind the opposition to health care, which is protecting profits.

OVERBY: But Scott defends his tenure at HCA.

Mr. SCOTT: We had great outcomes, we had great patient satisfaction, and nobody ever accused me of doing anything wrong.

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

Mr. SCOTT: I committed personally $5 million, but then we've raised, and other people have shown up and helped us.

OVERBY: But for now, others in what might be called the anti-Obama camp are holding their fire. Scott has noticed their absence.

Mr. SCOTT: I don't know anybody else that's on the air on the conservative side now. There's not a bill yet, so some people are going to wait until they know exactly what the bill is.

OVERBY: And Kirsch points out that industry groups are working behind the scenes at this early stage of maneuvering.

Mr. KIRSCH: The groups are inside the Beltway. They're saying publicly, we're for reform, and privately we're saying, but not this reform and not that reform.

OVERBY: But he says the corporate leaders will eventually face a dilemma.

Mr. KIRSCH: I mean, the question for the industry is if what Congress is going to pose 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?

OVERBY: Today, Health Care for America Now will begin airing new ads aimed at a handful of potential swing vote senators.

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

Mr. EVAN TRACY (Campaign Media Analysis Group): Obviously, you have a lot of horsepower right now with the Obama administration. So this could very much break along liberal and conservative lines and look a lot like a political campaign.

OVERBY: 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.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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