ith voters increasingly tuning into the final phase of the 2016 election, it’s time for Republicans and Democrats to start thinking critically about health care and its importance to every American, regardless of party.
Consumers across the country have major concerns with the current state of their health care plans and want to see tangible solutions once the election dust settles.
The Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease recently released a 50-state poll of more than 20,000 health care consumers’ concerns regarding health care and exploring the obstacles they face when searching for suitable coverage as well as solutions they’d like to see implemented in 2017. The largest poll of its kind, with the ability to drill down as far as state, congressional district, and disease-specific levels, shows that 77 percent of American consumers, or someone they know, have had trouble with their health insurance in the past year.
This is a troubling trend. Candidates have a unique opportunity to make fixing insurance a central part of their platform.
Six years after President Obama’s historic health reform plan was enacted in 2010, polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation suggests that Americans are split on it. This is actually good news, as the law was strongly disliked not too long ago. This change no doubt reflects the tremendous success in getting 20 million Americans insured as well as slowing the overall costs of health care, compared to the decade before the law was implemented.
Dialogue about repealing the law has been winding through Republican circles since inception. The GOP has voted to repeal the law over 60 times and Republican nominee Donald Trump has vowed to repeal the law. This mode of thinking is far-fetched and, simply put, a waste of time.
Members of Congress should focus on meaningful health care reform, with both parties working in tandem to build on the successes of “Obamacare” while ensuring that it works as it was intended to for all Americans.
A good place to start is by refreshing Washington’s collective memory on the actual name and intent of the law — The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — focusing on the first two words: patient protection. These two words seem to have dropped from the national dialogue on health care, but are resounding themes among those concerned by the current and future impact of the law with respect to the quality and cost of coverage for themselves and their families.
Candidates and policymakers alike can support patients and consumers by making a renewed focus on the patient protections inherent in the law that have been largely absent in its implementation. This holds true for Democrats who support the act and Republicans who want alternatives to it. All candidates and policymakers need to make it a priority to address the concerns that far too many Americans are currently facing about their insurance coverage — rising premiums, increasing copays and deductibles, diminishing access to needed services and treatments, and more.
These challenges must be acknowledged at the state level as well as the national level. For example, 73 percent of the Illinois residents that the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease polled said it’s very important to have more transparency when it comes to hospital costs, and 26 percent of California residents were most concerned about the impact their rising health insurance premiums will have on their budgets.
Candidates and policymakers must also hold health insurance companies accountable — a tenet of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that both consumers and lawmakers can support. It’s important for candidates to address — and respond to — consumers’ opinions as nearly half (43 percent) of participants thought that their health insurance costs increased over the last year, and 3 in 10 Americans said their health care coverage is getting worse.
To make progress toward patient protection and affordable health care for all, Democrats must abandon unfettered protection of all aspects of the current law and Republicans must come to grips that Obamacare is the law of the land and move to finding common ground on viable reforms. That begins by putting “Patient Protection” back into the law’s design, implementation, and governance — and into needed reforms.
Health care in the US is not a one-size-fits all system. It’s in the best interest of candidates for office to recognize how they can support voters and uphold the core functions of health insurance reforms: increasing coverage, expanding access, and lowering costs. That’s a politically smart platform for any candidate willing to embrace it before voters make up their minds.
Douglas E. Schoen has served as a pollster for President Bill Clinton and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He has more than 30 years’ experience as a pollster and political consultant.