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Expecting final push on health-care reform, interest groups rally for big finish

"We promise to make no new statements, send no new letters, run no new ads about health reform, and we are urging all other interest groups to do the same," Rand said in a statement. "Let's turn down the volume on the outside noise so that our leaders might actually listen."

Others are staking a middle ground. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the powerful drugmaker lobbying group, is holding back on ads for now but will continue to work closely with lawmakers and the White House on specific issues, one senior industry official said. PhRMA, which agreed to $80 billion in cuts in exchange for protection from other steps, has concerns about Obama's proposal to add another $10 billion to that amount, the official said.

Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, the top insurer trade group, said the industry is making "a big effort" to counteract attacks from Obama and other Democrats, who have pointed to hefty premium increases as a key justification for the health-care overhaul. "We're working really hard to set the record straight on what's driving health-care prices in this country, which is underlying medical costs and not health plans," he said.

Organizing for America, the grass-roots arm of the Democratic National Committee, is tapping into Obama's 13 million-deep e-mail list to solicit campaign volunteers on behalf of Democrats who support health-care legislation, according to Lynda Tran, a spokeswoman. The effort has so far resulted in nearly 9 million hours of pledged volunteer work, Tran said; the idea is to guarantee electoral support for lawmakers nervous about the November midterm elections.

The group also launched a new campaign last week aimed at helping Obama supporters make their views known on talk-radio stations around the country, Tran said.

Richard Kirsch, national campaign director for the pro-reform group Health Care for America Now, said the organization plans a large-scale demonstration in Washington on March 9 targeting a policy conference by AHIP, the insurance lobby.

The group also ended an eight-day march last week from Philadelphia to Washington in honor of Melanie Shouse, an Obama supporter whom activists say died of breast cancer because she had no access to health insurance.

"The message we have is simple: Congress should listen to us, not the insurance industry," Kirsch said. "They have to make a decision and decide whose side they're on."


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