Health Care Reform

Getting Ready for Health Reform 2020: What Past Presidential Campaigns Can Teach Us

Like the partisan ACA debate, issues will be front and center this November

Excerpted from the new Commonwealth Fund report, authored by Jeanne M. Lambrew. Reprinted with permission. Read the entire report here.

June 26, 2018 — During the 2020 presidential campaign, which begins in earnest at the end of 2018, we are sure to hear competing visions for the U.S. health system. Since 1988, health care has been among the most important issues in presidential elections. This is due, in part, to the size of the health system. In 2018, federal health spending comprises a larger share of the economy (5.3%) than Social Security payments (4.9%) or the defense budget (3.1%). Moreover, for the past decade, partisan disagreement over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has dominated the health policy debate. If health care plays a significant role in the 2018 midterm elections, as some early polls suggest it will, the topic is more likely to play a central role in the 2020 election.

Abstract

Issue: The candidates for the 2020 presidential election are likely to emerge within a year, along with their campaign plans. Such plans will include, if not feature, health policy proposals, given this issue’s general significance as well as the ongoing debate over the Affordable Care Act.

Goal: To explain why campaign plans matter, review the health policy components of past presidential campaign platforms, and discuss the likely 2020 campaign health reform plans.

Methods: Review of relevant reports, data, party platforms, and policy documents.

Findings and Conclusions: Proposals related to health care have grown in scope in both parties’ presidential platforms over the past century and affect both agendas and assessments of a president’s success. Continued controversy over the Affordable Care Act, potential reversals in gains in coverage and affordability, and voters’ concern suggest a central role for health policy in the 2020 election. Republicans will most likely continue to advance devolution, deregulation, and capped federal financing, while Democrats will likely overlay their support of the Affordable Care Act with some type of Medicare-based public plan option. The plans’ contours and specifics will be developed in the months ahead.

Why campaign plans are relevant

This report is the first in a series on health reform in the 2020 election campaign. Future papers will delve into key reform design questions that candidates will face, focusing on such topics as: ways to maximize health care affordability and value; how to structure health plan choices for individuals in ways that improve system outcomes; and how the experience of other nations’ health systems can inform state block-grant and public-plan proposals.

This report on health reform plans focuses on policies related to health insurance coverage, private insurance regulation, Medicare and Medicaid, supply, and tax policy. It explains why campaign plans are relevant, their history since 1940, the landscape for the 2020 election, and probable Republican and Democratic reform plans. The Republican campaign platform is likely to feature policies like those in the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson amendment: a state block grant with few insurance rules, replacing the ACA’s coverage expansion. The Democratic platform will probably defend, improve, and supplement the ACA with some type of public (Medicare-like) health plan. The exact contours and details of these plans have yet to be set.

Importance of Campaign Plans

Campaign promises, contrary to conventional wisdom, matter. During elections, they tell voters each party’s direction on major topics (e.g., health coverage as a choice or a right in 1992). In some cases, candidates or party platforms include detailed policies (reinsurance in Republicans’ 1956 platform, prospective payment in Democrats’ 1976 platform). Campaign plans tend to be used to solidify party unity, especially in the wake of divisive primaries (2016, e.g.). Election outcomes are affected by such factors as the state of the economy, incumbency, and political competition rather than specific issues. That said, some exit polls suggest that candidates’ views on health policy can affect election outcomes.

Campaign plans also help set the agenda for a president, especially in the year after an election. Lyndon B. Johnson told his health advisers, “Every day while I’m in office, I’m gonna lose votes. . . . We need . . . [Medicare] fast.” Legislation supported by his administration was introduced before his inauguration and signed into law 191 days after it. Bill Clinton, having learned from his failure to advance health reform in his first term, signed the bill that created the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) 197 days after his second inauguration. Barack Obama sought to sign health reform into law in the first year of his first term, but the effort spilled into his second year; he signed the ACA into law on his 427th day in office. These presidents, along with Harry Truman, initiated their attempts at health reform shortly after taking office.

Though only 4 percent of likely voters believe that most politicians keep their promises, analyses suggest that roughly two-thirds of campaign promises were kept by presidents from 1968 through the Obama years

In addition, campaign plans are used by supporters and the press to hold presidents accountable. For instance, candidate Obama’s promises were the yardstick against which his first 100 days first year, reelection prospects,11 and presidency were measured. Though only 4 percent of likely voters believe that most politicians keep their promises, analyses suggest that roughly two-thirds of campaign promises were kept by presidents from 1968 through the Obama years.

Health as a Campaign Issue (1912–2016)

The United States has had public health policies since the country’s founding, with its policy on health coverage, quality, and affordability emerging in the twentieth century. Teddy Roosevelt supported national health insurance as part of his 1912 Bull Moose Party presidential bid.Franklin Delano Roosevelt included “the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health” in his 1944 State of the Union address, although it was not mentioned in the 1944 Democratic platform.

Harry Truman is generally credited with being the first president to embrace comprehensive reform. He proposed national health insurance in 1945, seven months after F.D.R.’s death, and campaigned on it in 1948 as part of a program that would become known as the Fair Deal, even though it was not a plank in the Democratic platform. Legislation was blocked, however, primarily by the American Medical Association (AMA), which claimed that government sponsoring or supporting expanded health coverage would create “socialized medicine. Health policy became a regular part of presidential candidates’ party platforms beginning about this time.

Setting the Stage for 2020

President Trump’s attempt to fulfill his campaign promise to repeal and replace the ACA dominated the 2017 congressional agenda. In January 2017, the Republican Congress authorized special voting rules toward this effort, while President Obama was still in office. On the day of his inauguration, Trump signed an executive order to reduce the burden of the law as his administration sought its prompt repeal Yet among other factors, the lack of a hammered-out, vetted, and agreed-upon replacement plan crippled the Republicans’ progress. Speaker Paul Ryan had to take his bill off the House floor on March 24, 2017, because it lacked the necessary votes; the House passed a modified bill on May 4. Senator Mitch McConnell’s multiple attempts in June and July to secure a majority in favor of his version of a health care bill failed on July 26, when Senator John McCain cast the deciding vote against it. In September, Senators Lindsey Graham, Bill Cassidy, Dean Heller, and Ron Johnson failed to get 50 cosponsors for their amendment, the prerequisite for its being brought to the Senate floor. The Republicans subsequently turned to tax legislation and, in it, zeroed out the tax assessment associated with the ACA’s individual mandate. At the bill’s signing on December 22, Trump claimed that “Obamacare has been repealed,” despite evidence to the contrary.

Likely 2020 Campaign Plans

Against this backdrop, presidential primary candidates and the political parties will forge their health care promises, plans, and platforms. Common threads from past elections are likely to be woven into the 2020 debate. The different parties’ views of the balance between markets and government have long defined their health reform proposals. Republicans will most likely still be against the ACA as well as uncapped Medicare and Medicaid spending, and for market- and consumer-driven solutions. Democrats will most likely blame Republicans’ deregulation for rising health care costs; defend the ACA, Medicare, and Medicaid; and advocate for a greater role for government in delivering health coverage and setting payment policy. Potential policies for inclusion in candidates’ plans have been introduced in Congress  But major questions remain, such as: how will these campaign plans structure choices for individuals and employers, promote efficient and high-quality care, and learn from the experience of local, state, national, and international systems?

 

Read the entire report here.