Many healthcare interest groups sit on sidelines

Interest groups of all stripes have taken sides on the House healthcare bill but some key healthcare sectors appear content to remain on the sidelines.

The most prominent organizations to take a side so far are the seniors’ lobby AARP, which endorsed the House Democratic bill, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which opposes the measure and has been fighting hard to stop it.

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But beyond the conditional support offered by the American Medical Association (AMA) and a few other physician groups; the endorsement of the American Nurses Association; and the opposition of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association; most of the major groups representing healthcare interests have declined to take solidly pro or con positions.

Supporters and opponents of the House Democratic bill are split along predictable lines.

The Chamber and other business groups traditionally allied with Republicans, such as the National Federation of Independent Business and the National Association of Manufacturers, are staunchly opposed to the bill. Historically Democrat-allied labor unions such as the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union are solidly in the Democrats’ camp.

The AARP’s endorsement is a major coup for the Democrats but was not entirely surprising. Although the AARP did not win concessions on several key issues, such as expedited availability of generic drugs, many of its big priorities are part of the bill, including improvements to Medicare’s drug benefit and limits on insurance companies’ ability to reject older consumers or charge them very high premiums.

Democrats won endorsements from a number of groups representing patients, such as the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association, along with consumer organizations like the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Consumers Union. The NAACP and Rock the Vote also back the bill.

In the healthcare-business sphere, AHIP and the health insurance companies have come out full-bore against the House measure.

The AMA and other physician groups have offered qualified support for the healthcare bill if is passes along with a measure to reform the broken Medicare payment system for doctors. A number of state-based physician lobbies and medical specialty societies, however, oppose the measure and plan to make a stand Saturday at an AMA conference in Houston.

But other heavy hitters in the healthcare industry are still on the sideline, concerned about big and small elements of the House’s bill and supportive of others but reluctant to expend political capital by embracing or rejecting the measure outright.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), for instance, has grave concerns about provisions in the House bill that would cost them more than $100 billion dollars. PhRMA, however, struck a deal with the White House and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) that the group believes will ultimately protect it from the harshest policies promoted by the House.

The House measure would levy a new tax on medical device manufacturers but while the Advanced Medical Technology Association, the industry’s main trade group, has expressed concern about the tax, the group has withheld a statement of opposition, at least in part because the pending Senate version of the bill includes a bigger tax.

The hospital industry, led by the American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals and the Catholic Health Association of the United States, has not chosen a side. Like PhRMA, the hospitals groups stand to take a huge hit in the House bill but likewise have an agreement with the White House and Baucus.