Promising lower health care costs doesn't fly with women — who will vote

Promising lower health care costs doesn't fly with women — who will vote
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Can you afford to buy a new economy car each year? And if you do not drive it, would you just junk it and buy another new one, repeating this cycle every year? Of course not, no matter how much money you have. But that is the equivalent of what we do each year on health care costs, according to a recent Kaiser Foundation report.The average premium for family coverage now tops $20,717 for those covered by a large employer. The average for high-deductible plans with savings options is $21,683. That premium for large firms was only $5,845 in 1999. And these costs do not include copays and deductibles. 

Back in 1969, President Nixon warned, “We face a massive crisis in this area,” noting that in the absence of substantial action to change the cost curve, “we will have a breakdown in our medical care system.” That breakdown has continued through 50 years of annual health care cost increases that often outpaced wages and have continued to squeeze American families. A 2017 CNN poll found 84 percent of Americans were dissatisfied with the total cost of health care.  Those costs continue to skyrocket upward, and many families wonder if anyone is listening. 

Congress’s continued obsession with inter-party attacks fills the airwaves and social media, fed by inner beltway rage. But guess what? That’s not what voters sent you to Washington to do, and they are getting pretty fed up. As part of our nonpartisan Women2Women Conversations Tour, we recently visited seven cities: Austin, Texas, Chicago, Columbia, S.C., Greensboro, N.C., Kansas City,  Pittsburgh and Little Rock, Ark. Across the board, the top issue for suburban women is health care (ranging from 25 percent to 48 percent among our audiences). And, on average, a staggering  99 percent of all participants said they would be voting in the 2020 elections.

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Biannual campaign promises about lowering health care costs are wearing thin. Promise me once and don’t deliver, shame on you; promise twice and fail, shame on me. 

When price increases are borne by the employer, the employee still pays via lower wage increases and less investment into workplace improvements. These diversions of resources make American products less competitive. On the other hand, campaign promises calling for higher taxes to cover costs just disguise the increases because wage earners pay taxes one way or another. All of these methods of reducing costs do little, if anything, to actually reduce costs. They don’t fix health care; they just finance it. A brief survey of the history of the Affordable Care Act shows the folly of poor financing versus real reform. 

There is plenty of finger-pointing in the health care field. Doctors blame trial attorneys for the cost of defensive medicine. Hospitals blame the cost of keeping up with technology. Drug companies blame the cost of research. Insurance companies blame all the above, as well as consumers who overuse the system. All these groups spend massive amounts of money on lobbying and campaign contributions to make sure any changes offered by Congress don’t hurt their group. And there is little or no incentive by government programs such as Medicare or Medicaid to keep costs down through prevention and integrated care. 

I get it that we buy insurance even if we don’t need it; we are paying for other people’s care and someday they will pay for ours. But that’s little solace when families feel abandoned by all these groups. Knowing that women are the primary bill payers for health care costs, expect them to be savvy and highly motivated voters in the upcoming cycle. Anyone who wants their vote needs to get to work and offer real solutions. Buying a new, disposable car every year is not the answer.

Sarah Chamberlain is founder and president of Women2Women Conversations Tour and the president and CEO of Republican Main Street Partnership, a coalition of more than 50 members of Congress. Follow her on Twitter @MainStreetSarah and @w2wtours.