While the Affordable Care Act took center stage in the 2008 and 2012 election cycles, health care remained top of mind for voters across the country. This atypical election year, of course, is different. Talk about health care has been placed on the backburner, and consumers are shifting focus as a new topic is placed to the forefront of our national debate: the economy.
 
That’s not entirely surprising. According to the most recent Kaiser Health tracking poll, the economy and jobs outrank health care as the most important issue for Americans when choosing a candidate. But for the millions of Americans living with chronic conditions, health care is very much an economic issue, with many struggling to make ends meet while paying for expensive medicines and devices or finding time to take off work for intensive treatments and procedures. In another survey by Kaiser and the New York Times, one in five working-age, insured Americans reported problems with paying medical bills in the past year, many of whom were forced to deplete savings and increase credit card debt to stay afloat.
 

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With health care ranking as the third most important issue to Americans, and cost of and access to care serving as the driving forces, candidates must speak about the issues in a way that acknowledges how the economy and health care are unified issues, which together impact the lives of patients. To win over voters, politicians must be ready to engage in discussions about tangible solutions to these issues in health care, which must involve patients, as well as a variety of industry stakeholders, including economists, to develop the best solutions.
 
But if you want action, you need a movement. As the Executive Director of Partners for Better Care, a coalition representing more than 114 million patients, I know that there is movement building among patients and various stakeholders in this country. I know this because we are leading it, along with our coalition member groups—AIDS United, American Liver Foundation, Amputee Coalition, Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, Hemophilia Federation of America, National Patient Advocate Foundation, The MAGIC Foundation, National MS Society, Parkinson’s Action Network, and United Cerebral Palsy. Together we are taking action to ensure that patients have a seat at the discussion table, with affordable, accessible care at the top of our agenda.
 
Serving as a roadmap for the next generation of health care, our recently released Patient Charter outlines nine points of opportunity to fight for improved access, affordability and transparency in health care, including predictable, manageable out-of-pocket costs, and limited cost shifting; transparency of cost and quality information; provider network adequacy; reasonable health system costs; fair and stable formularies and equitable access to therapies; easy, quick, fair and understandable appeals processes; and dignified, culturally competent care.
 
The Charter amplifies the patient voice to match that of politicians. It aims to help all Americans have an active and formal role in the transformation of health care by empowering the millions of Americans who have felt the frustration of high out-of-pocket costs, inadequate networks, unstable formularies and more. Creating lasting and impactful changes requires collaboration across the spectrum, and candidates are no exceptions. As the 2016 election continues, we call on both parties to invite Americans to participate in the development of the next generation of care, and will look to other key players both inside and outside the U.S. health system to help us develop specific, comprehensive solutions to the issues facing patients today.
 
In an election cycle where economic issues have become the focal point, it’s important to remember how these issues impact patients on a daily basis. As Americans continue to feel insurmountable financial and emotional burdens related to their health, both platforms must commit to pursuing patient-centered and culturally competent quality care that is available, transparent and affordable. To serve the greater good, both parties must see health care as the dynamic issue that it is.     

Richards is the Executive Director of Partners for Better Care, a coalition representing more than 114 million patients advocating for the next generation of health care.