The Pump Handle

Health care & the election: What do voter beliefs say about future health policy?

While health policy hasn’t been at the forefront of this year’s presidential election, the next person to sit in the White House could have a transformative effect on health care access, affordability and inequity. Of course, with so many variables in play, it’s hard to predict what either candidate could realistically accomplish on the health care front. However, a new report might provide some insightful clues.

Published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, the report complied results from 14 national public opinion polls from various sources and conducted as recently as September 2016. In analyzing the polls, researchers attempted to address four questions: What is the mood of the country about health care issues as we approach the 2016 election? How do voters feel about the major health care policy issues likely to be debated after the election? How different are the health care policy views of Republican likely voters and Democratic likely voters? What are the implications for future health care policy on the basis of the outcome of the presidential and congressional elections?

Here are a few of the findings and insights the researchers gleaned:

Overall, the researchers predicted that if Democrats take control of Congress and the White House, they will likely continue implementing the ACA and expand it to reach the country’s remaining uninsured. If Republicans win, the researchers predicted they would likely try to reduce the ACA’s reach, reduce and eliminate any mandates, decrease federal subsidies and give more authority to state officials. The report also predicted the “greatest potential bipartisan agreement” on fixing Medicare’s finances, while forecasting business as usual on Planned Parenthood funding and abortion access. In other words, if Democrats are in charge, they’ll continue to support Planned Parenthood and the right to abortion; if Republicans are in charge, they’ll continue their opposition.

The researchers write: “It is important to recognize that future changes in health policy are related more to the extent of political polarization between the parties on health care than to the importance of the issue itself in deciding the 2016 election.”

To download a full copy of the report, visit the New England Journal of Medicine.

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for nearly 15 years.