When it comes to what issues voters want to hear more about from presidential candidates, health care ranks second only to the economy.
Michael B. Nichol, director of graduate programs in health at the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development (SPPD), discussed what voters want in health reform and whether candidates will be able to reconcile the public’s desire for reform with political realities.
Nichol, along with two SPPD Master of Health Administration (MHA) students, spoke as part of the Road to the White House: Politics, Media and Technology series.
The weekly public conversations on the upcoming elections are organized by the SPPD’s Judith and John Bedrosian Center on Governance and the Public Enterprise, the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy and the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
“It is clear that voters think this is one of the major issues facing the country today,” Nichol said. “But voters are very confused about the provisions of health care reform [of] 2010, voters embrace inconsistent views regarding what they want and what they’re willing to fund, and it’s not clear whether voters are going to demand specific alternatives to the existing reform to be able to evaluate presidential candidates as we go into the race for the White House.”
Nichol cited various polls on the topic conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation. He noted that 26 percent of voters chose health care as an issue that interests them, behind 60 percent for the economy/jobs but ahead of the deficit, military conflicts, education, taxes, gas prices, national security and many other major issues.
Three-quarters of voters believe that the federal government should be doing more for them regarding health care, and 52 percent said they don’t understand how President Barack Obama’s health care reform law of 2010 affects them.
The three problems with health care boil down to access, quality and cost. Nichol said it reminds him of a sign at a restaurant he once visited in the Midwest, which read “You can have good food, fast food, cheap food. Pick 2 out of 3.”
In an effort to improve access and quality of health care in the United States, he said it is almost a certainty that, regardless of the plan, costs for individuals are going to increase in the future.
“We want the latest and greatest,” said Susan Lam, one of SPPD’s MHA students on the panel. “We want the best iPhones and the biggest cars. The problem is we want everything, but we don’t want to pay for it. Maybe that’s one of the biggest issues in health care today.”
There are about 50 million uninsured people in the country. It’s a common mistake to believe most of the uninsured are from the unemployed.
Many of the unemployed are covered by Medicaid. People who don’t have health insurance coverage tend to be young and in wage positions where their employers don’t offer coverage, and they are not at a high-enough income level to afford it on their own.
Nichol indicated that the Obama administration has not been effective in communicating how the health care reform law will impact people.
When asked about individual aspects of the law, voters approved of every part except the individual mandate that will require Americans to have coverage or pay a hefty fine.
“What Obama should have done over the last year is talk about the specific provisions that people wanted, and I think that’s what he’s going to do [during the campaign],” Nichol said. “He’s going to come out and say, ‘Wait a minute. You all said you wanted this, this and this. We got it for you.’ The individual mandate issue, he’s going to have to be able to explain that we’ve got to have additional resources coming into the system or else we’re going to run into some real problems on funding. That part is going to be a difficult dance for him.”
Voters understand that alternatives to Obama’s plan have yet to be proposed by his competitors. Nichol believes that voters will begin pressing presidential candidates on the Republican side to put a proposal on the table.
Stephen Hubbard, a doctoral candidate at SPPD focusing on fiscal sustainability, attended the event to get a better grasp of the public perception of health care.
“I don’t think the economic system will be sustainable in the future, and health care is one aspect of the economic system that is underneath everything,” Hubbard said. “Because of the politics wrapped around this, we’re not able to get some of the solutions other countries have adopted that seem to be working better.”