Comparing stands on health care

Campaign Ad Watch

October 09, 2002|By David Nitkin

Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's campaign began airing a television ad Friday that contrasts her position on health care with votes cast by Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in Congress. The ad accuses Ehrlich of "siding with special interests" in voting against a patients' bill of rights and for a Med- icaid prescription drug plan that relied on private insurers. The 30-second spot is airing in the Baltimore market.

What the ad says: The commercial opens with images of Townsend and Ehrlich. "There's a real difference on health care," the announcer says. Those words appear on the screen.

"As lieutenant governor, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend fought successfully for a state patients' bill of rights and health insurance for 100,000 children," the announcer says. The ad shows Townsend speaking with a woman and a man holding a toddler, and then a doctor examining a child with a stethoscope.

"Now she has a plan to help 200,000 Maryland seniors pay for prescription drugs," the announcer says as a clip shows Townsend speaking to senior citizens.

"In Congress, Bob Ehrlich stood with HMOs against a real Patients' Bill of Rights," the voiceover continues, "and with big drug companies against adequate prescription drug coverage for seniors under Medicare." The ad concludes with side-by-side images of the two candidates: "Bob Ehrlich: siding with special interests. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend: fighting for Maryland families."

The facts: Townsend has released a detailed five-point health care proposal that includes a senior prescription drug benefit, which she says can be paid with help from the federal government which recently agreed to shoulder some of the burden.

The General Assembly approved the Children and Families First Health Care Act in 1998 and the Patients' Bill of Rights Act in 1999, while Townsend was lieutenant governor. Townsend was supportive, but her office does not play a pivotal role in securing the passage of bills.

The ad correctly identifies several votes taken by Ehrlich during the past four years.

In October 1999, Ehrlich voted against House Resolution 2723, a bill extending protections for patients covered by managed-care plans. The bill passed, 275-151. In August last year, Ehrlich voted for HR 2563, a bill that limited liability and damage awards when patients are denied coverage by managed-care plans. That bill passed, 218-213.

In June, Ehrlich voted for the Medicare Modernization and Prescription Drug Act, a Republican-sponsored plan that would allow Medicare recipients to receive lower-priced prescription drugs through private insurance policies, after paying monthly premiums and a deductible. Democrats said the plan was not a true benefit and was unworkable; it died in the Senate.

According to an analysis of Ehrlich's federal campaign contributions in 2001-2002 by the Center for Responsive Politics, Ehrlich received more money from health professionals -- more than $21,000 -- than from any other industry.

The pharmaceutical industry, however, gave him relatively little money: $2,500. State law does not require industry groupings of the contributions on state finance forms, leaving an equivalent figure for Townsend's campaign unavailable.

Analysis: "Special interest" is a term in politics that is rarely defined precisely. The teachers unions, lawyers and environmentalists who support Townsend have their interests at heart, as do the small-business groups and chambers of commerce that support Ehrlich.

The commercial is the latest in a series of "comparative" advertisements that attack Ehrlich's voting record but also highlight the lieutenant governor's positions. Townsend has a more detailed health-care proposal than Ehrlich and has been campaigning on it aggressively. Democrats nationally believe they can use the prescription drug issue, and the House of Representatives vote, to their advantage.

Ehrlich's congressional votes largely follow party lines, and he has not often been publicly linked with specific interests.

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