There’s been a lot of talk about walls (and who’s going to pay for them) along with the usual hot-button issues such as combatting terrorism and Second Amendment rights, but the topic of healthcare has been conspicuously underplayed in the current election cycle – at least so far.
This is a dramatic turnaround from the past two elections. Obamacare was considered one of – if not the – most important issue of the 2012 race, and effectively helped President Barack Obama get re-elected, while both the Democrats and Republicans made healthcare a central part of their 2008 campaigns.
With this election heading into the home stretch, however, things have been a little different. “Health care fades into the background of 2016 election cycle,” reads a recent headline on the website of Kaiser Health News, a non-profit organization committed to coverage of healthcare policy and politics.
According to the non-profit, “With Obamacare battles largely behind us, presidential candidates in 2016 seem focused on other issues. Whether it’s fatigue with the topic of healthcare, a shift in the public’s priorities, or other campaign-year distractions, how we pay for our doctor’s visits has fallen from the top of the nation’s priorities list.”
It is most likely a combination of all the above factors. And to be fair, there are plenty of other issues presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump aren’t discussing in this election, from cyber-security to social security and retirement issues.
But their relative radio-silence on healthcare won’t – and can’t – last for long. This is a $3 trillion industry – and growing – with broad-based implications for everything from affordable prescription drugs to reproductive rights. In fact, The Atlantic recently opined that healthcare will be “the question that will decide the 2016 election.”
Writer David Frum likened the early stages of the election to an “elite sport,” followed only by those who have no real concerns about their insurance. “As the game broadens and widens, however, it will involve an ever-greater number of people for whom the risk of loss of health coverage will be an overwhelming consideration,” he writes.
Frum argues that 11.2 million Americans have been added to the Medicaid program since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was introduced, with an estimated 5.7 million young adults ages 19 to 25 gaining coverage, primarily through their parents’ plans.
“If the ACA were repealed without a replacement,” he reasons, “one would expect most or all of these people to lose their coverage.”
In other words, it’s going to be extremely difficult for politicians to put the genie – or the subsidized medicine – back in the bottle. And for all the fuss about the Affordable Care Act, it’s worth noting that it is by no means comprehensive.
According to a 2015 report by healthcare and IT services firm Valence Health, 20% of Americans paid more than $1,000 of their own money for healthcare services that their plan did not cover last year, including 13% who spent more than $2,000. Nearly a third of Americans have knowingly delayed or avoided recommended healthcare or prescriptions because of cost.
Both parties have a stance on healthcare, which basically boil down to two things – repealing Obamacare (Republicans) versus retaining and even expanding it (Democrats).
Trump, for example, lists healthcare reform second among his seven positions that will Make America Great Again, trailing only “Pay for the wall.” He has said he will ask Congress to repeal the “terrible legislation” that is Obamacare on Day 1 of his administration.
Clinton, meanwhile, says she will defend the Affordable Care Act and build on it, vowing to crack down on prescription drug prices and hold drug companies more accountable.
With the two presumptive presidential nominees ideologically opposed, it seems there will be some much-needed debate about healthcare as November 8 draws near. And it is a discussion healthcare stakeholders, from payers and providers to employers and patients, will need to monitor and possibly be part of when the debate begins.