By JOE FLOWER
A hot take on healthcare in the Democratic debate: They’re doing it wrong.
Healthcare is not a reason to choose between the Democratic candidates.
They are all for greater access and in some way to cover everyone, which is great.
None of their plans will become law, but if they are elected those plans will become the starting point of a long discussion and legislative fight. The difference in their plans (between, say, Buttigieg or Biden and Warren or Sanders) is more of an indication of their general attitude toward governance rather than an outline of where we will end up.
Democrats are focused on coverage, Trump is on cost.
Around 90% of Americans already have coverage of some sort. Polls show that healthcare is voters’ #1 priority. Read the polls more closely, and you’ll see that it’s healthcare cost specifically that they are worried about.
Democrats seem to assume that extending more government control will result in lower costs. This is highly debatable, the devil’s in the details, and our past history on this is good but not great.
The President, on the other hand, can make flashy pronouncements and issue Executive Orders that seem intended to bring down costs and might actually. It’s highly questionable whether they will be effective, or effective any time soon. Still, they make good headlines and they especially make for good applause lines at a rally and good talking points on Fox.
But, Ms. and Mr. Average Voter will hear that Trump is very concerned about bringing down their actual costs. The Democratic plans all sound to the untutored ear (which is pretty much everyone but policy wonks like you and me) like they will actually increase costs while taking away the insurance that 90% already have in one way or another.
It is important to take care of everyone. But it is a mistake for the Democrats to allow this to become a battle of perception between cost and coverage. Voters’ real #1 concern is about cost, not coverage.
Joe Flower has 40 years of experience in the healthcare world and has emerged as a thought leader on the deep forces changing the system in the United States and around the world.
There’s something compelling about the personal narrative that vast mountains of quantitative data cannot rival. Anecdotes are, quite simply, powerful. They tap into our shared humanity, making something seem somehow more real by putting a face on it. This is why, if you follow politics for very long, you will find numerous cases of policymakers championing issues that have touched their own lives in some way. For example, Senator X doesn’t care about issue Y, until they discover that their son or daughter is affected by it. Then, almost overnight, they seem to care more about issue Y than almost anything else. Such a shift is completely understandable, but often out of proportion to the true scale of the issue in society.
In health policy, the personal narrative can also be very powerful. In fact, the journal Health Affairs routinely runs a “Narrative Matters” section that puts a face on the health care issues of the day. It is absolutely critical that health policymakers, health services researchers, and others, not lose sight of the fact that their work and the subsequent decisions it informs, are based on real people. However, it is equally critical for objectivity to be maintained, and narrative can threaten our work in this regard.
2013 may be the most significant year in health care policy ever.
But we have to get through 2012 first.
Once the 2012 election results are in there will be the very real opportunity to address a long list of health care issues.
If Republicans win, the top of the list will include “repealing and replacing” the Affordable Care Act. If Obama is reelected, but Republicans capture both houses of Congress, we can still expect a serious effort to change the law. Then there is the granddaddy of all problems, the federal debt. The 2012 elections could well prepare the way for entitlement reform—particularly for Medicare and Medicaid. Even if Obama is reelected, the 2013 agenda will include a serious debate about Republican ideas to change Medicare into a premium support system and block grant Medicaid to the states.
If the election is a draw with neither side able to unilaterally move their agenda—likely in the form of Obama still in the White House but facing a Republican Congress, the pressure to deal with the growing costs of Medicare and Medicaid as well as nagging concerns about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act will create an imperative for action in 2013.
We are entering the season of polarization. With various Republicans vying to replace Barack Obama, the president eager to keep his job, and both the House and the Senate up for grabs, candidates from both sides of the aisle will spend the next year and a half stressing their differences.
But beneath this veneer of partisanship lie a few fundamental agreements. Consider health care, which will be at the center of the political debate. Here are four aspects of the issue in which Republicans and Democrats have stumbled into consensus.
THE VALUE OF COMPETITION Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, has attracted much attention with his plan to reform Medicare. He proposes replacing the current fee-for-service program, in which the government picks up the bill for medical expenses, with a “premium-support” system in which seniors use federal dollars to choose among competing private insurance plans.
Democratic critics of the plan suggest that enacting it would be akin to pushing Grandma over a cliff. But they rarely point out that the premium-support model is in some ways similar to the system set up under President Obama’s health care law. If choosing among competing private plans on a government-regulated exchange is a good idea for someone at age 50, why is it so horrific for someone who is 70?
Republicans, meanwhile, are eager to repeal Obamacare and so are also reluctant to point out its parallels with Ryancare. We can take heart, however, in the kernel of agreement about the value of private competition.
When former House Speaker Newt Gingrich announced his bid for the GOP presidential nomination, I found myself singing a few bars from Night Moves, Bob Seger’s hard-driving tribute to teenage hormones: “I used her, she used me/But neither one cared./We were gettin’ our share.”
No, this isn’t one more commentary on the Georgia Republican’s checkered marital past. I’m referring to a different relationship, the one between Gingrich and the health policy community. A critical component of the climb back to prominence for a man who inspired nearly as much distrust in his own party as in the opposition was proving he could work harmoniously with those holding differing views on an important policy issue — how to reform U.S. health care.
Gingrich succeeded so well that some of the policy recommendations he was touting just a few years ago bear a close resemblance to Obama administration actions that Gingrich now denounces as leading us to “a centralized health care dictatorship.”
The romance between Gingrich and the health wonks, and Gingrich’s makeover as a leader with ideas as much substantive as political, began after the appearance of his 2003 book, Saving Lives & Saving Money. The book gave credibility and visibility to a set of ideas being talked about in the health policy world about using information technology to improve medical care.Continue reading…
Can you sell health reform the way you sell toothpaste? Can you stop health reform the way you sell soap? A lot of people apparently believe so.
I would guess that in the 10 months leading up to the vote on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), proponents and opponents spent more than $200 million on TV, radio and newsprint advertisements.
These ads were produced by agencies that basically knew nothing about health care. The clients of these agencies were groups that often knew nothing about health care. The funding often came from donors who knew nothing about health care.
By “knew nothing” I mean they did not understand health care as a complex system. That means they had no idea how you could solve real problems — like controlling costs, raising quality and improving access to care. To add insult to injury, most of the people who engaged in the ad wars knew very little about what became known as “ObamaCare.”
But this lack of knowledge didn’t slow anyone down. The abiding sine qua non for ad wars is the conviction that facts, knowledge and truth are irrelevant. It is the belief that people can be manipulated and conned into believing that what’s good for them is bad and vice versa.
Our current national health policy is certainly not the result of a well-conceived, comprehensive approach to health care; rather it is the result of decades of incremental legislation, regulation, and market changes. Put this antiquated legacy system against the backdrop of the worst economic crisis in 80 years, the cost of health care approaching 20 percent of our gross domestic product, health insurance premiums in Colorado approaching 20 percent of median income, and the burning platform for change looks more like a raging inferno. While the national health care reform enacted this week is historic in its proportions, it will by no means be a panacea. The passage of national health care reform legislation, as President Obama, states, “is not radical reform, but it is major reform. This legislation will not fix everything that ails our health care system. But it moves us decisively in the right direction.” Over the next few years, there will be tens of thousands of pages of rules and regulations that will interpret the 2,000+ page legislation and spell out more clearly how it will be administered. So it is impossible to determine with certainty today exactly how the legislation will affect us in the future. But against a backdrop of five fundamental issues that must form the basis of a rational national health policy, we can assess how far we have come and how much more there is to do:
One of us was at a local diner yesterday, when a good friend and health plan broker walked up to say hello. This guy delivers premium increases every day to employers, and understands how broken things are. “I hope Congress votes yes,” he said flatly. “We’ve got to finally move beyond the status quo and try to change the system.”
As conflicted as we are over it, we agree and we hope the reforms pass. The die is now cast, so there is no point in continuing to urge a different approach. As terribly flawed as it is on cost controls, the bill represents two very important things that, in our opinion, the nation desperately needs.
First, it will significantly open access, bringing America much closer to universal coverage and making personal financial distress a much less likely outcome of sickness or injury. As Nicholas Kristof pointed out Wednesday, that alone will dramatically improve the health of the nation. Widespread uninsurance and under-insurance have been a national disgrace for decades. Passing this bill would be a commitment to move beyond that shame.
Second, we believe the President is attempting to deal with many difficult problems thoughtfully and in good faith within an extremely toxic political environment. We want to see him succeed, because we think that his approach is good for America.
The bill is not what we hoped for. We’re disappointed in the behaviors of both parties. But after a year of wrangling, it is what is possible now. There is no reason the bill’s inadequacies can’t be revisited.