Health professionals, once Republican givers, now tilting Democratic

WASHINGTON
Health care professionals are giving Democrats a second look
after more than a decade of opening their wallets in favor of Republican
candidates.

The shift in giving is apparent in the presidential contest,
where leading Democrats are raising more cash from doctors, nurses and other
caregivers than are Republicans.

Two main factors are at play: Democrats now control Congress
and Democratic presidential candidates are raising more money than are
Republicans.

“The health care industry wants to influence the
majority in Congress and … they are reading the same tea leaves as everyone
else that suggest the Democrats could have good results in the 2008
elections,” Jonathan Oberlander, a health politics expert at the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said in an e-mail.

No one better represents this realignment than Hillary
Rodham Clinton. She leads all presidential candidates with $700,000 in
donations from doctors and nurses, according to an Associated Press analysis of
Federal Election Commission data for the first six months of 2007.

The three leading fundraisers in the Democratic field
Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards have combined to amass nearly $2 million
from health professionals, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive
Politics.

The top three GOP fundraisers Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and
John McCain have raised a total of nearly $1.9 million from the health sector.

If the pattern holds, Clinton’s success could be a political
turning point and one full of irony.

As first lady, she led a failed effort by her husband’s
administration in the early 1990s to overhaul the health system. By 1994,
health professionals and the organizations that represent them were beginning
to tilt Republican. This pattern continued throughout Republican control of
Congress from 1995 until last year.

Buttressed by well-financed political action committees,
physicians in particular preferred Republicans by at least a 3-2 margin in
federal races from 1996 to 2006. President Bush did even better in 2004, getting
$6.7 million to Democratic nominee John Kerry’s $4.1 million, according to the
center.

Four years earlier, Bush outraised Democratic rival Al Gore
among health professionals by 7-to-2.

The message, according to MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, was
clear: no more attempts at overhauling the health care economy.

Then the landscape changed.

Democrats swept Republicans out of power in last November’s
elections. Bush slid into a public opinion rut. Republican donors failed to get
as motivated for their presidential candidates as Democrats did for theirs.

What’s more, Democrats stopped advocating top to bottom
changes in health policy.

“It’s not the kind of rip it all up and start over
approach that we saw in the early ’90s,” said Gruber, who has been advising
Democrats on health care policy. “That’s just not what you’re hearing now.
You’re hearing it from Michael Moore. But you’re not hearing it from Hillary
Clinton or Obama.”

The health care terrain does not all belong to Democrats,
though.

Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, spearheaded
his state’s bipartisan health plan, with its goal of providing health coverage
to the state’s uninsured. Gruber was among those who advised Romney’s health
team.

Romney’s work may be paying off. He is not far behind
Clinton in contributions from health care professionals and leads her among
employees of drug companies, the AP analysis shows.

“There is a change in the politics of health care
reform that is in part reflected in these numbers,” said Anthony Corrado,
a campaign finance expert at Colby College in Maine. “We have an
increasing segment of health care professionals who recognize that the current
system is gravely ill and that change is needed.”

Obama and Edwards have offered detailed plans that aim to
provide universal insurance. Edwards’ requires everyone to have coverage;
Obama’s does not.

On Thursday, another Democratic contender, Sen. Chris Dodd
of Connecticut, proposed insurance coverage paid by businesses and individuals,
with premiums based on their ability to pay.

Clinton has not been as specific, indicating she will roll
out her plans over time. She has offered cost reduction proposals such as
computerized medical records and emphasis on disease prevention and drug
purchasing plans to reduce the price of medicines.

Her deliberate pace has not hurt her with health
professionals or even with some drug manufacturers.

She received $4,600 from Kevin Sharer, the chairman, chief
executive and president of Amgen, a California-based pharmaceutical company.
Sharer also gave $4,000 to McCain and $2,300 to Romney.

Sheila Krumholz, the center’s executive director, cautioned
about reading too much into contribution figures. Donors at this stage are more
likely to be driven by personal ideology, she said, than by industry
considerations.

“I’m not sure this can be attributed to an industrywide
shift,” she said.

It could be the first hint of one, however.

“Surely, ideology is important to them, but they
are also political investors,” Oberlander said. “I assume they want
to make sure they have ties political and financial to candidates they see as
plausibly winning the White House in 2008, even if that candidate’s ideology
doesn’t exactly match their own.”


– Associated Press



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