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Congressman Upset at Group’s Screening Out Pro-Clinton Health Care Calls With AM-Health Reform

July 21, 1994

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The radio ads airing around the country seem straightforward enough: Call a toll-free number and give your opinion about health care reform to your member of Congress.

But there’s a hitch: The health industry group paying for the ads and the telephone line doesn’t want anyone who supports President Clinton’s plan to get through. So those calls are screened out.

The practice by the Health Care Leadership Council has at least one congressman boiling mad.

″They’re filtering my calls,″ said Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo. ″I want people to call and give me their honest-to-goodness thoughts. These people are blocking out some and letting others go through.″

Indeed, when a reporter dialed the 800 number Thursday and asked to give an opinion to Skelton, the person who answered asked for his views on health care. When the reporter said he backed the Clinton plan, he was told he wouldn’t be put in contact with Skelton’s office.

″This is only for those opposed to the Clinton plan,″ the person said.

He then gave the reporter telephone numbers (not toll-free ones) for Skelton’s offices in Washington and Missouri and added: ″We’re not related to him politically at all.″

A spokeswoman for Health Care Leadership Council defended the practice as legitimate, saying the radio ads are a crystal-clear appeal to opponents who believe Clinton’s plan is a big-government approach.

″The majority of people who call do feel that way,″ said spokeswoman Claire del Real. ″Maybe you could say it’s a form of screening, but we’re coming at it from a particular point of view.″

A copy of the radio ad’s script asks listeners to telephone their members of Congress if they reject having ″faceless Washington bureaucrats″ decide how much money they spend on health care.

″We’ll put you in touch,″ the ad says.

Ms. del Real said the ads are being run this week in about 20 congressional districts, including that of Skelton and Rep. Pat Danner, another Missouri Democrat. Both are undecided on health care reform.

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