After months of polls, mailbox fliers, debates and seemingly endless commercials, the mid-term elections are over and the results are in. As predicted by many, the Democrats have won back the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, while the Republicans have expanded their majority in the Senate.
This means that for the first time since 2015 we have a divided Congress, which leaves me pondering the possible consequences for Scripps Health and the broader health care sector.
Without a doubt, health care will be on the agenda for both parties over the coming months. That became apparent during pre-election campaigning as voters on both sides of the political spectrum voiced concerns about a wide range of health care-related issues.
Exit polls found that about 41 percent of voters listed health care as the top issue facing the country, easily outpacing other issues such as immigration and the economy.
That’s really no surprise. Health care affects all of us, whether we’re young or old, poor or well off, or identify as more conservative or more liberal. And despite all of the division around the country, most Americans seem to agree on at least a few things – health care costs too much, more needs to be done to rein in those costs, everyone should have access to health insurance, and pre-existing condition shouldn’t be a disqualifier for getting coverage.
When the new Congress convenes on Jan. 3, a wide range of health care issues will be on the agenda.
Here are a few of the issues that I’ll be watching as our lawmakers adjust to the reshuffled political dynamics in Washington.
- Repealing elements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is likely off the table now that Democrats control the House. Previously, House Republicans had voted to change a number of ACA provisions that required health insurance policies to cover prescription drugs, mental health care and other “essential” health benefits. But even before the election, Republicans had reassessed making changes to measures that protect people with pre-existing conditions as that issue gained traction with voters.
- Efforts to expand insurance coverage and achieve universal health care will likely increase. A number of newly elected Democrats vowed to push for a vote on the single-payer option, but other less politically polarizing options such as lowering the eligibility age for Medicare and expanding Medicaid likely will draw more support.
- While Republicans used their majority in the House to reduce the burden of government regulations in health care and other industries, Democrats might use their new-found power to initiate investigations on a wide range of matters such as prescription drug costs.
We could see some significant changes take place at a more local level as well. On Tuesday, voters in three states approved the expansion of Medicaid, the government program that provides health care coverage for the poor.
And here in California, we will be watching newly elected Governor Gavin Newsom to see what plans he will put forward for expanding health care coverage in this state.
At Scripps, we believe everyone should have access to the health care services that they need, and we have worked hard in recent years to do all that we can to bring down the costs of delivering that care to our patients.
In this new world of divided government, gridlock likely will prevail and President Trump’s initiatives will struggle in the Democrat-controlled House. Everyone will be focused on positioning themselves and their party for the next presidential and congressional elections in two years.
Compromise and bipartisanship are clearly the best options for addressing the health care challenges we now face in ways that have the best chance to win wide public support.
If Democrats in the House fail to reach across the aisle to Republicans or try to make too many changes too quickly, they surely will face many of the same pitfalls that confronted Republicans over the last two years.