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NOVEMBER 19, 2018 //     

With midterms over, does healthcare get to retake the test?

Credit: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

By: Brian Feldman

Healthcare was the No. 1 political issue voters cited in last week’s midterm elections. The results are in, and it’s clear voters remain unhappy.

For the first time since the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was passed, voters decided to target the Republican party to express their frustrations. Even after recounts in California, Georgia and Florida, the message remained clear: voters believe healthcare costs too much, we need to protect people with pre-existing conditions and, although we do not love what we have, the good news is we are still moving forward. Aside from that general sentiment, what did the election really mean for healthcare in the United States?

The government share of the market will grow, but there are incredible opportunities to provide services and products to government markets.

Voters in red states, such as Idaho, Nebraska and Utah, passed ballot measures to expand Medicaid and Kansas elected a new Democratic governor who is likely to do the same. Many of the new enrollees will be people who have never had insurance before; therefore, many of these states will ask the private sector to compete for these patients. In addition, all the government payers, such as Medicare, Medicaid and the Veterans Administration, will seek new ways to save money and provide better care. The private sector will have unlimited opportunities to market new ideas, products and services to these agencies. With the aging of our population and growing number of people having coverage, the healthcare market is an unlimited opportunity.

A wholesale takeover of healthcare via “Medicare for All” or a single-payer system isn’t happening any time soon but….

This issue won’t disappear. Numerous polls show voters of all types, especially young people, are open to the idea of the government being the payer for healthcare. Polls also show people under 65 favor being allowed to join the Medicare program. While costs estimates are widely disputed and the tax consequences are still unknown, insights prove this issue is going to be the subject of much debate. In fact, most of the top-tier Democratic presidential candidates support “Medicare for All.”

The 2020 presidential campaign began last Wednesday, and the constant media attention about the 2020 election will include lots of discussion around this topic. The Medicare program has a very high approval rating, so labeling something “Medicare for All” sure seems like a popular way to approach this issue. In addition, some candidates will propose variations of this idea, such as a buy-in for those over 55 years of age, adding fuel to the fire.

In conclusion, the question remains: Can anything get done?

Drug pricing is one area where both President Donald Trump and the Democrats seem to want to focus their efforts. But given the president’s unpredictable behavior, it’s difficult to say whether he would follow through on any of his proposals. However, if he sees it as a political winner, especially with seniors, action is possible. 2018 marked the first election in decades where Democrats got the same share of the senior vote as Republicans, so it’s likely both sides will try to figure out ways to court this high-turnout segment of the population. For companies trying to get a message out about what they do or sell in the healthcare marketplace, the best advice is to stick to script, deliver value and take advantage of the opportunities our never-ending healthcare debate may provide.

Brian Feldman is a partner, general counsel and co-leads the agency’s healthcare practice.

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