Democrats must win big on health care to have a shot in the midterms
Democrats are at risk of losing their control of Congress in the 2022 midterms.
Given the chance that at least one part of the Democrats’ two-pronged infrastructure deal fails, now more than ever, President Biden and the Democrats need to show voters they can deliver on their promises — and this should start with delivering on health care.
Health care has proven to be a winning issue for Democrats in past elections. Democrats won back the House of Representatives in 2018 — flipping 41 seats — in large part due to their compelling message on health care. Exit polls from the 2018 midterms reveal that 41 percent of voters believed health care was the most important issue facing the country, followed by immigration at 23 percent and the economy at 22 percent.
Health care was once again a pivotal issue in the 2020 election as the country grappled with COVID-19. Throughout the 2020 campaign, Democrats dug in on the health care fight and attacked former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act in the midst of a once in a century pandemic.
Indeed, Democrats found success in 2020 by advocating for making health care more affordable and accessible, while also casting Trump and Republicans as the party that would take away American’s health care when they need it most.
Looking ahead to the 2022 midterms, it will be critical for Democrats to show that they can deliver on health care as the nation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, as insurance premiums and drug prices skyrocket, Americans will look to the Biden administration and congressional Democratic leaders for solutions.
Today, Americans are facing higher insurance premiums and prescription drugs costs, medical conditions that were left untreated during the pandemic, and potential long-hauler medical issues from COVID-19. Our country also needs a long-term coronavirus vaccine strategy, similar to annual flu shots.
Positively, Moderna is in the midst of clinical trials for a combination flu and COVID-19 vaccine. This groundbreaking development could help end the pandemic in a longer lasting and more equitable way.
However, Democrats also need to do their part to help make health care more affordable by working to combat rising insurance premiums. Some medical experts are expecting the costs to treat patients to increase by 6.5 percent in 2022, which could result in insurance companies raising premiums even higher — thus making health care even more unaffordable for Americans. Further, an approach that helps keep people with chronic conditions and seniors out of the hospital in the first place should underpin any effective health care policy.
For both political and practical reasons, Democrats need to find ways to lower health care costs responsibly.
Yet, some members of Congress are considering flawed legislation that would give the government the ability to set prices and to decide which drugs are worth investing in — regardless of the opinions of doctors and medical experts. The passage of this bill would be a practical mistake by Democrats that could also hurt them politically in the midterms.
Foremost, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown Americans the necessity of pharmaceutical innovation. If passed, this legislation would undercut the ability of the companies that produced the COVID-19 vaccines in record time to make other life-saving drugs — including booster shots for the COVID-19 vaccine. In the end, this would disproportionately hurt people with chronic diseases and the elderly.
Moreover, this price setting by the federal government wouldn’t even immediately lead to savings on drug prices for Americans — which the Congressional Budget Office affirmed in 2007, and reaffirmed in 2019.
To that end, Democrats should push the health care industry toward more affordable pricing without sacrificing quality of care. This approach to reforming health care is something Republicans could viably get on board with, which could deliver Democrats a bipartisan victory prior to the midterms.
Ultimately, the Democrats need to prioritize health care now, or risk losing their control of the House and Senate in 2022.
Douglas E. Schoen is a political consultant who served as an advisor to President Clinton and to the 2020 presidential campaign of Michael Bloomberg. His new book is “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.”
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