Americas Health Insurance Plans intends to play a major role in election season debates about health care system reform.

The health insurance industry trade group, formed by the recent merger of the American Association of Health Plans and the Health Insurance Association of America, is organizing a “voter empowerment” program to help set the debate agenda.

The program will use paid advertising, direct mail and grassroots lobbying efforts to encourage voters to demand more substantive debate about health reform issues, AHIP said.

AHIP is shaping its campaign with data from a survey by Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies L.L.C., Alexandria, Va. The survey assessed the views of 800 registered voters in 17 “swing states,” or states that appear to be up for grabs in the presidential campaign.

“The voters want substance, not sound bites,” AHIP President Karen Ignagni said during a press conference held to announce the voter empowerment program and the survey results.

Conventional wisdom holds that candidates “should keep it simple,” but, at least in the area of health reform, “voters are saying strongly that they want more details,” Ignagni said.

McInturffs survey team found that 43% of the survey participants said the U.S. health care system “should be reformed” and that 41% said the system “should be radically changed.” Only 13% said the system should be kept the same.

Only 30% of the participants said the United States ought to adopt a single, government-run health care program.

More than 60% of the participants said the private sector is better suited to delivering care when it is needed, assessing new technology, distributing resources efficiently and using screenings to prevent illnesses before they occur, McInturff reported at the press conference.

But more than 54% of the participants said the government is better at keeping health care affordable, and 59% said the government is better at ensuring that more Americans have access to quality care.

On the campaign trail, Republicans tend to emphasize private-sector solutions, and Democrats tend to emphasize government solutions, but many voters in the swing states “see a role for both,” McInturff said. “The parties are more ideologically pure than the electorate.”

AHIP has been trying to build alliances with doctors by supporting medical malpractice law reform and to reach out to consumer groups by supporting “incremental efforts” to help the uninsured without squeezing out existing private health coverage.

When McInturffs researchers asked about medical malpractice reform, 72% of the swing-state voters said hearing about proposals to reduce trial lawyers share of medical malpractice punitive damages would affect their votes.

The researchers also found that 63% of the swing-state voters said malpractice rules ought to be changed and that 61% said they had not heard enough from current presidential candidates about reforming the medical malpractice liability system.

When researchers addressed the topic of incremental reform, by asking voters whether they preferred to have a single program cover all uninsured U.S. residents or see the country come up with options targeted at specific groups of the uninsured, 66% of the swing-state voters said they preferred coming up with different options for different groups.

One issue for the future could be the plight of single voters.

Only 30% of the single swing-state voters surveyed said political candidates were addressing their health care priorities. The single voters felt more neglected than any other demographic group included in the survey.

McInturff noted that the influence of health reform concerns on voters presidential candidate choices varies with the state of the world.

“Health care drops when Iraq and terrorism are hot,” McInturff said.

When the world calms down, voters interest in health reform pops back up, McInturff said.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, April 16, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.