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K Street Files: My Turn

Former Bush administration official and lobbyist Tommy Thompson is the latest Republican to lash out at the Democratic National Committee for apparently misusing his stance on health care reform. The DNC over the weekend reportedly pulled a television advertisement featuring Thompson, former Sen. Bob Dole (Kan.) and other Republicans who apparently supported a White House-led charge to fix the nation’s insurance woes.

[IMGCAP(1)]The party committee reportedly canceled the ad blitz after Dole complained to the White House that the spot misrepresented his views. Thompson on Tuesday voiced his frustrations that Democrats did not consult him before cutting the ad and said he was only told about it from an acquaintance.

“We’re 80 percent there and we should be working together collectively, both parties, to get a health care transformation bill that is acceptable,— said Thompson, a former Health and Human Services secretary.

“The Democratic National Committee takes that out of context and puts it in an ad, which was very political and very wrong.—

The Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld lobbyist, whose firm represents industry powerhouse Aetna, was also critical of an insurance industry report out this week that claims individual coverage rates will go up under current Democratic proposals.

“They cherry-picked in order to make it sound worse than it really is — they used the worst scenarios to drive the worst conclusion,— he said. “They’re trying to get leverage, but you don’t put something out there that is easily dismissed.—

Thompson also offered praise to President Barack Obama for taking up the cause.

“Anytime you deal with something as convoluted and complicated as health care, you’re going to make mistakes,— he said. “Overall, you have to give the president credit for putting it out there, staking it out and trying to get it done.—

As to his own political future, he would not rule out another gubernatorial run or 2010 challenge to Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who fared worse than expected in a recent hypothetical electoral matchup with the former Wisconsin governor.

“I haven’t said ‘no,’— he said.

In the Eye of the Stakeholder. The recent release of a study by the Congressional Budget Office that concluded medical malpractice reforms would save $54 billion in health care costs over a decade has generated contradictory interpretations from those keenly interested in the issue.

Top Republicans, including Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, immediately seized on the findings as bolstering their contention that legal changes need to be made. Grassley’s office issued a news release saying it was a “no brainer to include tort reform in any health care reform legislation.—

The Institute for Legal Reform, an arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, also put out a statement saying “the $54 billion in deficit reduction over a decade is momentous.—

The institute estimated that the medical liability reform would shave more than 10 percent from the cost of the Finance Committee’s health care coverage provisions.

“Neglecting to include medical liability reform benefits only the plaintiff’s lawyers,— the business group said.

Not so, responded the American Association for Justice, which represents trial lawyers, who oppose curbs on malpractice awards.

The AAJ fired off a press release arguing that the malpractice reform really amounted to only 0.5 percent in overall health care costs, which are about $2 trillion.

“The vast majority of empirical evidence suggests that there are only miniscule savings to be found in reforming our nation’s civil justice system,— the trial lawyers group said.

Calling on Congress. Universities and colleges are joining the call by telecommunications companies to revise a tax provision that considers employer-provided cell phones and other electronic devices as fringe benefits. More than 85 higher education institutions, including the University of Alabama, Cornell University and Harvard University, recently sent a letter to Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and ranking member Dave Camp (R-Mich.) calling for Congress to repeal the law.

“In 1989, when Congress passed legislation treating employer-provided cell phones as a fringe benefit similar to company cars and other executive perks, cell phone technology was in its infancy and no one imagined they would become the critical tools of convenience for business and daily life they are today,— the institutions wrote.

The Internal Revenue Service recently started enforcing the rules, requiring employees to keep detailed records of their personal and business use of employer-provided cell phones and BlackBerrys, according to the letter. If the records aren’t kept, the value of the devices must be included as taxable income for employees.

There are 67 co-sponsors for the MOBILE Cell Phone Act, but it has been held up because the legislation must be added to a tax provision, according to a telecom industry source.

The American Council on Education is also hoping to spur movement on the provision and is in the midst of writing its own letter to send to Capitol Hill.

“It’s really a question of finding a vehicle for it,— said Steven Bloom, assistant director of federal relations for the council.

Legislative Alignment. The American Chiropractic Association is betting that a former House Majority Leader can help it get what it wants out of health care reform. The group last week hired Gephardt Government Affairs, the firm of former Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.).

Not surprisingly, the ACA wants Gephardt to help put chiropractic care on an equal level with other health care providers, according to a press statement from the group.

“We are maximizing our effectiveness by having Dick Gephardt and his team on the side of doctors of chiropractic,— ACA President Rick McMichael said in the statement. For his part, Gephardt added that “chiropractic care is a valuable and cost-effective service.—

Kate Ackley contributed to this report.

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