Changing sides?

Health industry employees in typically conservative central Indiana throwing more support to Democrats

November 1, 2008
     Dr. Catherine Michael, a part-time emergency physician for Indianapolis-based St. Vincent Health, desperately wants Republican John McCain to be the next president.  

   The 39-year-old mother of three gave McCain's campaign $500 in May because, she said, he will appoint Supreme Court Justices that are antiabortion. Michael, who attends a conservative Presbyterian church, also said she favors government policies based on "personal responsibility and less government intervention in general."

   But when it comes to health care, Michael said it's "OK" with her if the nation adopts a system of national health insurance, with the federal government acting as the "single payer" of medical bills.

   "We're already there, with bearing a burden to pay for health care for everyone," Michael said, referring to the large size of existing government health insurance programs and how private insurance premiums are inflated to make up for bills left unpaid by the poor and uninsured. "It might tidy it up a bit if it was just made single payer."

   Michael exemplifies much of the sentiment in central Indiana and its health care sector this year. McCain can still count on Indiana's electoral votes in the November election, political analysts say. But the traditionally conservative state and industry sector has shown a surprising amount of support for candidates that want government's health care girth to grow.

   It's a sign of the times across the nation. Support for completely rebuilding the nation's health care system has reached levels not seen since the early 1990s-when Americans' dissatisfaction sparked Bill and Hillary Clinton to try-unsuccessfully-to create a national health   insurance system.

   Even some pharmaceutical and medical device firms-traditionally stalwart supporters of Republicans and a laissezfaire approach to the health care marketplace-have shifted their support behind Democrats in Congress. That's a calculated lobbying strategy, of course, but it also reflects that some are betting that they can shape greater government involvement to their advantage.

   "There are certain companies and certain strategies that assume the government is going to run health care. They assume that if they can get in that system, it's a good business to be in," said Dan
  Perrin, an Indianapolis resident who is president of the Washington-based HSA Coalition, which opposes a national health insurance system.

   McCain's opponent, Democrat Barack Obama, has stopped short of a single-payer plan but has proposed adding far more Americans to federal health insurance plans, as well as putting tighter restrictions on private health insurers.

   Other Democratic candidates for president, such as Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich, proposed even greater expansions of government programs or regulations.

   And Hoosiers working in various parts of the Indianapolis-area health care sector gave more money to those candidates than they did to McCain or other Republicans that made bids for the presidency.
    Shifting support

   According to IBJ analysis of federal election records, 55 percent of donations made by central Indiana health industry workers went to Democratic candidates, with Obama drawing the most. Republicans garnered 45 percent, with McCain drawing the most.

   The records, made available by the Center for Responsive Politics, cover contributions made from January 2007 through June 2008.

   The most enthusiastic Democratic contributors were doctors and employees of
  hospitals and other health care providers. That group gave 62 percent of its dollars to Democrats.

   Among the workers of drug and device firms, particularly Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co., Democrats also drew more support than Republicans, by nearly a 60/40 margin.

   Only among health insurance companies and firms that serve them did Republicans maintain their traditional dominance. Sixty-eight percent of dollars given by employees of that sector went to Republicans.

   Of course, just because a donor works in the health care industry doesn't mean he or she chooses political candidates based on their proposed health care poli
  cies. Many people interviewed for this story cited other factors as more important, such as the candidates' experience, ability to bring about change or approach to national security.

   But even when another issue trumped health care, most people interviewed had at least examined Obama's and McCain's plans for health care reform and articulated a preference for one approach over the other.

   "Obama, he wants to spend his way out of it," said Dr. Bill Anderson, a family physician for Community Health Network. Anderson said his biggest issue is national defense. But he worried that Obama's health plan "would bankrupt our country."   
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