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Medical Groups Blast HMO Ad Campaign

WebMD Health News

March 29, 2000 (Washington) -- An ad campaign that was intended to change the focus of the health care debate from patients rights in HMOs to medical error is drawing flak from doctors and hospitals. The American Association of Health Plans (AAHP), the primary lobby for managed care plans, launched the controversial TV spot Tuesday by purchasing $200,000 of airtime on ABC, NBC and CNN.

Now the American Hospital Association (AHA) and the American Medical Association (AMA) are blasting the effort. The AHA says this two-week campaign "puts the American Association of Health Plans in the same league as the gun lobby and big tobacco." Nancy Dickey, MD, the immediate past president of the AMA, labels the ad as a "desperate eleventh-hour attempt to change the subject with expensive TV ads."

These charges hurled by top-tier medical organizations sound harsh, even in an emotionally charged debate over how to reform the nation's health care system.

"The recent ad campaign put on by the American Association of Health Plans is a cynical attempt to gum up the works on patient protection. This may backfire on them big time," Rep. Greg Ganske, R-Iowa, tells WebMD. Ganske, a plastic surgeon, is considered a leader in the battle for a patient bill of rights. He also says the campaign was a tactical error, because the AAHP has made the powerful AHA "really, really angry."

With video of a doctor and patient in an operating room, the ad begins with an announcer saying, "Medical mistakes can kill." The commercial then refers to last year's highly publicized report from the Institute of Medicine, which linked as many as 98,000 U.S. patient deaths to medical errors each year.

The spot goes on to suggest that medical mishaps can be reduced, but lawsuits aren't the answer: "Get patients the care they need instead of getting lawyers the clients they want. Let's have a real health care debate. Call Congress."

Is this a thinly veiled effort to derail the congressional conference committee negotiations over the shape of a managed care bill of rights, and in particular, whether patients can sue their health plans in state court for denying care?

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