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The presidential election holds potential to alter the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) fate.
For most of the ACA’s impactful benefits to be realized, President Barack Obama must be re-elected, because GOP nominee Mitt Romney has spent many months campaigning on the promise that he will repeal the ACA on his first day in office.
Acknowledging that the health reform law “is not the end of efforts to improve healthcare,” the Democratic Party National Platform lays out the vision to “continue to fight for a strong health care workforce” by “emphasizing primary care,” and “eliminating disparities in health” as well as strengthening Medicaid.
That last phrase also shows up in the Republican’s National Party Platform, which lists ‘Strengthening Medicaid in the states’ as one of its top two tenets; the other is ‘Saving Medicare for future generations.’
Both platforms are indicative of parties looking toward the future. Indeed, the health reform law will become more popular over time as it is put in place and people use its benefits, according to an advisor for the Obama campaign. “People get used to the law, and they become dependent upon it. And it becomes very hard to repeal it,” said Chris Jennings, who is also president of Jennings Policy Strategies Inc. and former senior healthcare advisor to former President Bill Clinton, at a recent conference sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center. Historically, the initial response to Social Security and Medicare were similar.
Individuals and families are already taking advantage of ACA benefits, namely young adults staying on their parents’ plans until they are 26; insurers unable to refuse to cover children with pre-existing conditions; and seniors able to close the funding gap known as the “donut hole” for prescription drugs.
The 2012 Democratic National Platform, released Sept. 4, also highlighted provisions, such as preventive screenings for women and contraception with no out-of-pocket costs; small businesses receiving tax credits to help them cover their workers, and insurers paying rebates to businesses and families when they are overcharged based on the ratio of medical-to-administrative costs.
As more elements of the health reform law take effect, insurers will no longer be able to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions; Medicaid will cover more working households; and those who don’t get insurance through an employer will shop for coverage on exchanges and may be eligible for tax credits to help afford it.
The re-election of Obama will offer more certainty that those elements will be realized.
Whereas the Democratic platform views health care as a linchpin for economic prosperity and security “so people, business and government are not constrained by rising costs,” the Republicans offer stark contrast.
Romney pledged in his speech in accepting the GOP nomination to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which the Supreme Court recently upheld for the most part. In addition to repealing the law, Romney has indirectly supported strong cuts for Medicaid through calling for its conversion to a block grant program, Jennings said.
[Survey analysis: Romneycare vs. Obamacare, do Americans care?]
Not only would the millions of citizen who stand to gain coverage under the ACA lose it, but many who are currently covered could see reduction or elimination of such coverage.
“It means a shifting of cost and burden to people and to states and fundamentally undermining the insurance market and making it even worse than what we already have,” Jennings said (pictured at right).
For Republicans, however, the effect of the Supreme Court decision on health reform feeds into the GOP view that the elections will be about choosing “big government or not so big government,” said Tom Scully, general partner, Welsh Carson Anderson & Stowe, senior counsel, Alston & Bird; and a Romney campaign designee. He was also an administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under former President George W. Bush.
Scully doesn’t anticipate hearing a lot of details revealed about health care between now and the election. The perception of the health reform law is more about “taking on a massive entitlement expansion and massive growth of the federal government.”
“Doing massive entitlement expansion, even though it may be something you morally believe in, is not responsible,” Scully said, with debt and entitlement spending at unsustainable levels.
“Someone has to take leadership in fixing our national problems,” he added. “You can’t punt everything forever.”
For the Republican view, reining in healthcare costs is about state-based and market incentives.
“Money is getting tighter across the board. Even with Democratic governors, the world is moving to capitation and Medicaid managed care,” Scully said. It makes sense shifting to a third party contractor and reducing risk, referring to them as “private managed care bundlers.”
Scully knows about entitlement expansion. As CMS administrator, he was instrumental in shepherding the Medicare modernization law and the prescription drug plan, which favored using the market to provide services.
“In Part D, once you came up with the money, and if the structure can work and provide the services they predict that they can manage and market, they will show up,” Scully said.
For the Obama administration, it was important to have broad healthcare industry and consumer support for the health reform legislation to make the market work, Jennings said.
“Coverage is a moral imperative, but that really wasn’t their driver. Theirs was to make sure people were in the system so you can have plans compete on cost and quality and not on their ability to avoid certain people, which creates all sorts of strange and warped incentives,” Jennings said. “We can have a discussion of allocation of resources and making it work, but the fundamentals of coverage, exchanges, insurance reform, tax credits are all pillars to make the system work.”
And a number of those pillars will likely die or survive depending on the outcome of Tuesday, November 6, 2012.