A campaign led by business and insurance groups to reform health care is gaining momentum in hopes of swaying Republican senators to vote against the democratically backed "patients' bill of rights". The groups argue that the legislation would raise the cost of insurance and force some employers to drop coverage for their workers.
Their $60 billion plan on behalf of major health providers includes proposals for a new federal grant program to insure poor children, tax breaks to help small businesses afford insurance, and vouchers for families to buy insurance, reports CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews.
In anticipation of next week's Senate debate on the bill, the groups are running $750,000 worth of ads this week aimed at potentially wayward GOP senators.
With the support of Republican allies in Congress, the groups helped defeat President Clinton's universal health care plan five years ago.
Their pitch has potency as the number of uninsured Americans grows. Despite prosperous economic times, 43.4 million Americans had no insurance in 1997, up by nearly 4 million since President Clinton proposed his universal health insurance plan in 1994.
"If you want to get these people covered, you can't do it without getting most of them some kind of direct help from the federal government," says Chip Kahn of the Health Insurance Association Of America.
Robert Blendon, who studies health policy and public opinion at Harvard University says this only partially explains the business and insurance groups new focus on the uninsured.
"In the middle of the debate over the patients' bill of rights, a lot of groups rediscovered the uninsured," he said. "They said, 'Let's stop talking about the patients' bill of rights; let's start talking about the uninsured.'"
Their advocacy is also being met with skepticism by patient advocacy groups who say the industry fears a public backlash. Within the next few years, it is estimated eight million more workers will be uninsured, and the industry is desperately afraid of that, reports Andrews.
"As more and more people become uninsured, and this reaches deeper and deeper into the middle class, the people who have a sense of vulnerability are going to demand government action," says Ron Pollack, of Families USA.
The radio and television ads are running in five states where Republican senators are up for re-election next year. The goal is to ward off temptations for the five to vote for some of the more popular Democratic amendments that will be offered in the Senate debate.
"Pay more or lose our insurance? Doesn't Congress care what happens to us?" a man complains in one of the TV ads.
The ads are targeted at GOP Sens. Spencer Abraham of Michigan, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Slade Gorton of Washington, Rod Grams of Minnesota and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.
The new interest in the uninsured also shows up in GOP proposals to change the tax code anin a pitch by the insurance association for the government to create a $60 billion annual subsidy. Both would help people without insurance buy coverage.
Just before the July Fourth holiday, Rep. Bill Archer, R-Texas, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, promised that his tax plan would include new incentives -- credits or deductions -- to buy coverage.