Analysts Say Health Care Costs May Become ‘Hot Election Issue’ This Year
Among the public, "growing alarm" over health insurance for unemployed workers and increased costs for Americans with employer-sponsored health coverage "should set in just in time" for the congressional elections in November, according to analyst predictions, National Journal reports. Although health care costs increased "by double digits" over the past few years, the strong economy and tight labor market prompted many employers to assume the increased costs, a trend that will likely end in the current recession. Paul Ginsburg, president of the Center for Studying Health System Change, predicted that many employees will "feel the shock" later this year "when they're hit with big insurance bills for 2003." Diane Rowland, executive director of the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, added that higher unemployment rates also may increase public concerns over health insurance this year.
Analysts said that even if increased health care costs do not become a "hot election issue" in November, the situation will likely raise the "political temperature" next year, when employees begin seeing the added costs in their health plans. However, National Journal reports that "whether public concern will reach the panic level it did in the early 1990s is an open question." Voters in recent polls "show increasing uneasiness" over unemployment, but their "worry may not have yet translated into an appetite for radical change" to the U.S. health care system, Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster, said. William McInturff, a Republican pollster, said that about 30% of voters in a recent survey said that they "wanted radical change."
However, he predicted that lawmakers would address a prescription drug benefit for Medicare beneficiaries rather then increased health care costs in 2002. "The political culture can only handle one health care debate at a time," he said, adding, "The money's gone. They're going to give what's there to voters -- the seniors." In addition, National Journal reports that the debate over a patients' rights bill could "muscl[e]" the issue of increased health care costs "out of the political spotlight." However, Dean Rosen, chief health care aide to Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), said that "2003 could be different." States have begun to reduce spending on Medicaid, and the increased cost of prescription drugs has received "attention as one of the greatest contributors" to increased health care costs, National Journal reports. "We may be brewing some kind of meltdown," Rosen said. "Hard-core" health care advocate Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) added, "Health care insurance is a core concern for many families in this country. It's going to be there every single year and in every single campaign until we get it right" (Serafini, National Journal, 2/2).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.