As the country is awaiting the Supreme Court’s ruling on whether they will repeal the healthcare reform law, politics around healthcare policy has continued to swell with speculation, projections and promises from both sides of the political aisle. Meanwhile, the healthcare industry has mostly remained quiet, waiting for the ruling, which would likely determine the primary driver for future changes to our nation’s healthcare delivery system unlike any other that we have ever seen before in the last half-century.
A mid-June article in the Wall Street Journal noted that, “When the court rules […] the waves it sets off will be tricky for both parties to navigate.” This certainly appeared to be one thing that both Republicans and Democrats could agree on, as the parties’ leadership were trying to develop political strategies for all of the possible outcomes, resulting from the Supreme Court’s decision.
The majority of speculation prior to the ruling was that the Court would strike down either all, or parts of, the healthcare reform law enacted by the Obama administration. Overall, this would be negative for Democrats who have staked so much on their president’s healthcare reform package hailed as a major success for the administration when it was initially passed. And of course, that was not what the White House was looking for as they continued into the last few months of President Obama’s re-election bid, and in a time when momentum was building behind presumed GOP presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.
But, that certainly did not mean the Democrats were going to take any action of the Supreme Court against their healthcare reform package sitting down. Democratic members of Congress and lobbyists representing organizations in support of the new laws refocused what had been a PR battle to garner support for Obama’s healthcare package. Instead of defending the healthcare reform package as a whole, Democrats started focusing on the components of the law that were more popular amongst the public.
Democrats staunchly defended the more popular provision requiring insurance companies to keep children on parents’ policies until they reached 26 years old. They also defended the piece of the law that requires insurance companies providing coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. This one Democrats could use against the GOP opponents, essentially putting a political spin on the issue that made it appear as though the Republicans were opposing enhancing access to care for patients who needed it most.
As a result of these adjusted strategies from Democrats throughout the summer, Republicans are also realizing their own strategy needs some restructuring and refocus as well. For the past year, the message from Republicans is to “repeal ObamaCare”. Gradually, the discussion has moved somewhat towards “repeal and replace”, but with very little substance to the latter portion of that at this point.
In considering the Democrats’ shifting of their PR strategies, the GOP has been forced to come to grips with the fact that the challenge of solving our nation’s healthcare system woes is not resolved with repealing the Obama healthcare reform package, in part or in whole. So, policymakers in Washington (and the rest who are campaigning hard in their home states and districts) must answer the question of what we should do about healthcare reform now that the debate has moved on from Washington politics and PR wars surrounding this one specific law? As the WSJ mentions, now that the “repeal” part is being answered definitively, what’s the answer for the more important “replace” question.
While the country and the healthcare industry continues to learn a lot about what is really needed and what can really be done about healthcare as we’ve gone through this ObamaCare period, it is important to understand that this was only chapter one of that story. The real bulk of the work that will be required in resolving the impending crisis that our nation’s healthcare system faces is still yet to come. And with politics dominating everything that comes out of Washington at least until the elections are completed in November, one has to wonder when we will really be able to expect any meaningful direction from the country’s leaders on this issue.