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Lobbies Eye a Segue from SCHIP to Broader Health Overhaul

By John Reichard, CQ HealthBeat Editor

February 13, 2009 -- Can House and Senate support for the SCHIP bill that recently became law be parlayed into support for a broader health overhaul bill? Maybe with a little friendly persuasion.

Families USA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the Service Employees International Union and the American Cancer Society Action Network are launching a multi-million dollar, multi-week cable TV ad buy this weekend thanking selected lawmakers for their “yes” votes on legislation expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The $10 million-plus ad buy will thank 34 senators and 49 members of the House for their support for the law, which is expected to push SCHIP enrollment from 7 million to 11 million. The ads thank the individual lawmaker involved by name for his or her effort to bring health coverage to 11 million children. They flash the phone number of the lawmaker, urging viewers to call to express thanks, and to deliver another message on a broader overhaul. The ad for Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., for example, urges viewers to “Call Senator Dodd today. Tell him thanks for standing up for our kids, and that now’s the time to guarantee quality affordable health care for all Americans.”

The ads, which will run for three weeks in the case of the senators and two weeks in the case of House lawmakers, is a way to let lawmakers know that voters expect bigger things from them than expanding SCHIP. A Families USA spokesman declined to name the lawmakers but said they include both Democrats and Republicans. “It breaks down pretty evenly” between the parties, he said.

The spokesman said the three groups are also planning a direct mail campaign targeting voters in the states or districts of the lawmakers. The campaign calls for 150,000 pieces in the case of each senator and 60,000 pieces in the case of each lawmaker.

The joint efforts of business groups like PhRMA and left-leaning organizations like Families USA and SEIU have earned them the moniker “strange bedfellows”. While they share the goal of universal coverage, at some point their respective visions of needed changes in the system might be at sharp odds on issues like controlling drug costs. But Families USA Executive Director Ron Pollack said “I don’t think the health reform plan is going to address every single issue. There are going to be some issues that are going to be dealt with at a different time” and in a different legislative vehicle, he predicted. “You don’t have to do everything at once.”

Pollack added that the groups share more common ground than people realize and hinted that they will soon offer a concrete proposal reflecting that common ground.

PhRMA CEO Billy Tauzin said in a statement Friday on the ad campaign, “this collaboration is especially important because it emphasizes the broad support for comprehensive health care reform. We may always have differences of opinion, but we strongly agree that health care reform is a shared priority.”

Meanwhile, AARP, the nation’s largest senior lobby with 40 million members, is launching its own strategy to step up pressure on lawmakers to deliver for health system and other legislative changes. Its new Web site Government Watch puts “members of Congress on notice that when they cast a vote on an issue important to Americans 50-plus, 80 million eyes will be watching.”

The first bill they focus on will be the vote on the conference agreement on economic stimulus legislation (HR 1). “This legislation is a ‘key vote’ for AARP because it will provide older Americans will real relief and jump start our economy,” the site says. “As soon as Congress takes action on this bill, AARP will post how each member of Congress voted.”

Along with posting votes on key bills, the site will give AARP members “a simple way to give their elected officials feedback on his or her voting record.

AARP also said it will recognize members who champion legislation benefiting Americans fifty and older through its “Congressional Award” program.

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