Terror, economy seen outpacing health as key electoral issues

National security and economic issues will overshadow health care as top concerns and Congress is likely to remain divided, according to a survey of trade association professionals and lobbyists released today by the Health Insurance Association of America.

Most of the 138 senior-level executives surveyed by Public Opinion Strategies considered the Senate race a toss up, believed the House will remain under Republican control and expected President Bush to be re-elected in 2004.

"The country doesn't seem to be in angst to break the 50/50," said Bill McInturff, who headed the survey.

Republicans in the group expect former Vice President Al Gore to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, while Democrats see either Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina or Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, getting the nod. "Democrats do not believe Al Gore is their presumed heir," McInturff said.

Forty-eight percent of those surveyed said health care issues would remain important, but only 6 percent expected they would be the main concern on Capitol Hill. Forty-one percent said national security and terrorism would be the main concerns and 34 percent expect the economy would be the key issue.

By contrast, in the same survey two years ago, 23 percent of respondents said health issues were the most important, 16 percent said the economy was No. 1 and none considered terror an issue.

Republicans surveyed said creating medical malpractice limits would be the top issue in a GOP-controlled Congress, but Democrats said the Republicans' top issue would be banning certain abortion procedures.

The lobbyists said they expect both parties to approve a prescription drug benefit. McInturff noted that passing a prescription drug benefit continues to be one of the most prominent issues in political ads in this year's campaigns.

HIAA President Don Young said health "is going to be back and back in a very big way in the next two years." But the survey results "suggest that action on these [issues] will be difficult," McInturff said. The survey was conducted between Sept. 18 and last Wednesday.