Beefed up 'war room' to help Senate Dems in patients' rightsbattle

WASHINGTON: Senate Democrats have put a new twist on a Clinton-era

communications tactic - the "war room" - to help influence media

coverage in the current patients' rights debate.

But unlike the sweatshop-like atmosphere that characterized earlier war

rooms, where staffers worked overtime in cramped conditions to saturate

the media with their message and smear the opposition, room S-224 of the

Capitol building - dubbed the "Intensive Communications Unit" (ICU) - is

a hi-tech studio equipped for simultaneous TV and Internet appearances,

on-line chats and phone interviews with the senators themselves.

On Tuesday, June 19, its first day of operation, the room quickly became

the epicenter of media coverage for the issue, with senators, reporters

and photographers spilling out into the adjacent hallway.

The room is being supervised by Joe Trahern, director of the Democratic

Technology Communication Committee, and Mark Paterson, a media

strategist for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD). According to a

Daschle staff member, the room will be active every day "until the

legislation is passed."

Groups such as the Health Benefits Coalition (HBC), represented by

Porter Novelli (PRWeek, June 18), the Health Insurance Association of

America (HIAA) and the American Association of Health Plans (AAHP) are

spending prodigiously to defeat the McCain-Kennedy patients bill of

rights. Their opposition comes largely from a provision that allows

health plan participants to sue their HMOs for up to dollars 5 million.

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