Congressional Quarterly Healthbeat

By Jane Norman, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor
Conservative opponents of Democrats’ health care overhaul plans touted their success in Massachusetts and vowed at a Washington political conference Friday to continue their drive to ensure the demise of a “big government takeover” of the system.


“They are not giving up, and we must not either,” said Grace-Marie Turner of the Galen Institute, as she introduced a panel on “Saving Freedom from Obamacare: It Isn’t Over Yet” at the annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), a longtime event gaining new attention this year with the growth of the tea party movement. Much of the anti-overhaul action described by the panelists has come not in Washington, where Democrats control the White House and both houses of Congress, but in the states.

Heather Higgins, director of the conservative advocacy group Independent Women’s Voice, said it was involved in building support for the candidacy of newly minted Republican Sen. Scott P. Brown in his surprise victory in a Massachusetts special election in January to fill the seat of the late Edward M. Kennedy. Brown gave Senate Republicans the 41st vote they needed to successfully mount filibusters.

Independent Women’s Voice ran radio ads in Massachusetts on health care targeted at women and independent voters and placed thousands of recorded telephone calls featuring two physicians opposed to the overhaul, said Higgins. Polling after the election found a majority of those who heard the group’s message backed Brown, she said. “Small, independent efforts actually matter,” said Higgins.

Both of the physicians on the recorded phone calls “had total strangers track them down and thank them” for the calls, she said.

Eric Novack, an orthopedic surgeon and chairman of Arizonans for Healthcare Freedom, described how his advocacy group gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures and pushed to include on the Arizona ballot in 2008 a constitutional amendment that would block any state plan for universal health coverage. Known as the Freedom to Choose Act, it stated, “Because all people should have the right to make decisions about their health care, no law shall be passed that restricts a person’s freedom of choice of private health care systems or private plans of any type.”

While the amendment narrowly lost, voters will consider a new version in this fall’s election and Novack said lawmakers in more than 30 states now are proposing similar initiatives. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, those include proposed constitutional amendments, changes in state laws and proposals for prohibition of unfunded federal mandates. “We have made unbelievable progress — we can’t let up on this,” said Novack. “We can make a difference at the state level.”

Hal Scherz, a pediatric urologist in Atlanta who is president of Docs 4 Patient Care, a group opposed to the “government takeover” of health care, said his physician members believe an overhaul should target lower costs, improved access and changes in malpractice laws. They’d like to see consumers able to purchase insurance over the Internet and across state lines, for example.

Scherz, who blasted the American Medical Association for its endorsements of Democratic bills, said that when he meets with the parents of his young patients, he takes two minutes at the end of the conversation and asks to talk with them about the health care overhaul. “Most of them say yes and thank me for doing this,” he said.

Source: CQ HealthBeat

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