Focus on states for health care solutions this midterm election
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No matter which political party wins seats in Washington, D.C. in the upcoming midterm elections, viable policy solutions on health care are highly unlikely to come out of our nation’s capital in the near future. The political temperature here is too hot.

Especially if, as many predict, a “blue wave” of Democrats takes control of the House, a newly divided federal government will be less successful at forging solutions to big challenges. True, there may be fleeting hope that something positive will come out of ongoing work to stem the opioid epidemic or control rising prescription drug costs, but mostly, domestic policy discussion will remain on hold for at least another two years.

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Therefore, if health care is one of the political issues you care about when picking candidates on Election Day — and it ought to be — then be sure to pay attention to the candidates running for governor and state legislature.

Tangible action to improve health care for all Americans is already happening at the state level, where politics is less polarized and closer to the people these policies affect.

For example, in the past year, two states — Vermont and New Jersey — as well as the District of Columbia have established their own individual health care mandates, replacing and reaffirming an important component of the Affordable Care Act that Congress repealed. Additionally, seven states have already received waivers to establish their own reinsurance programs in an effort to control premiums for health care consumers.

Other states are working to curb prescription drug costs. They’re not waiting for Congress or federal officials to take action. In fact, just this year 42 states have introduced a total of 163 separate bills to address drug prices in some way.

So, those of us who want to continue pushing forward to improve health care access and quality for all Americans should look to states. That’s what United States of Care is doing.

United States of Care believes we are bound together by three key principles: one, that every American ought to have access to quality health care, within their budget; two, that no American family should face the threat of bankruptcy due to unforeseen medical bills; and three, that any new health care policies or solutions must be fiscally responsible and politically sustainable.

We’re looking to states like Utah, where nearly two-thirds of voters support an initiative on the November state ballot to expand Medicaid coverage, as well as Idaho, Nebraska, and Montana, where voters are being asked similarly to expand or maintain an expansion of Medicaid. (Those are all traditionally “red” states, too, by the way.) We’re looking at New Jersey, which earlier this year enacted strong protections against the “surprise bills” that people receive after unknowingly being treated by a provider outside of their insurance network. And Vermont, which passed legislation to create a program for the wholesale importation of prescription drugs from Canada.

We’re looking to other states that are initiating bipartisan efforts to find practical solutions, such as Oregon, which convened a Universal Access to Healthcare Workgroup, focused on a substantive study of policies to improve access to care. And New Mexico, where a broad bipartisan majority of the state legislature voted to take steps toward a Medicaid “buy-in” program, which would give people an additional affordable option by allowing them to buy into the Medicaid program that already forms the foundation of the state’s health care market.

State leaders — and even those at a more local level — have to balance their budgets and solve real problems. They know that health care is more than a political football -- it’s a personal issue. Caring for one’s health, or the health of a family member, is a very tangible and very personal task that, frankly, most Americans wrestle with daily.

State elected leaders also know that, if we strip away our political labels, strip away a particular health care program name or forget who created it, here’s the thing most Americans can still agree on: when it comes to health care, we can do better.

We can do better at helping more Americans access routine health care to prevent disease, rather than just treating it when it becomes acute. We can do better at controlling the cost of prescription drugs. We can do better than allowing American families to fall into financial ruin due to medical bills from illness or injury. We can do better by making sure every child routinely sees a doctor and a dentist. And yes, when it comes to making health care programs more affordable and fiscally responsible for governments, we can do better.

Doing better on health care, this midterm election season means focusing on state ballots and state-level decision makers, not putting all of our faith in the federal candidates at the top of the ticket.

Emily Barson is the Executive Director of United States of Care. She was an Obama appointee at the Department of Health and Human Services, where she served as Director of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, and prior to that worked on several Democratic campaigns and at the DNC. Tom Kise is the Director of Public Affairs at United States of Care. He is a longtime Republican strategist, having worked on the 2008 McCain presidential campaign and prior to that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's re-election campaign, in addition to, the RNC and the NRCC. Find out more about United States of Care at www.unitedstatesofcare.org and follow us on Twitter: @usofcare  @ebarson @TomKise