By Ken Perez, vice president of healthcare policy, Omnicell, Inc.
As widely reported, based on exit polls, healthcare—not the economy—was the top issue on voters’ minds in the 2018 midterm elections. This was due in part to the nation’s sustained economic recovery of the past two years, resulting in the current healthy state of the economy in general. In addition, Democratic Party political advertising emphasized healthcare—61 percent of pro-Democratic House ads from Sept. 18 to Oct. 15 mentioned healthcare, compared with just 10 percent of all Democratic ads in 2016.
According to several analysts, the Democrats’ success in taking back the House was largely due to their riding the “train of healthcare,” with a large proportion of Democrats in Congress supporting the idea of single-payer healthcare as embodied in Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s “Medicare for All” bill that he introduced in Sept. 2017.
Many of the most likely Democratic candidates for president in 2020 have publicly expressed their support of Medicare for All. Five of the seven most likely Democratic candidates from the Senate cosponsored the Medicare for All bill: Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Some of the possible Democratic candidates from the House (e.g., Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas) and current and former Democratic governors (e.g., former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick) are also Medicare for All backers.
At this point, what is the plausibility of Medicare for All becoming law after the 2020 elections?
It would obviously require the election as president of Sanders or a Democratic candidate who supports a single-payer system. In addition, the Democrats would need to retain their new majority in the House, and they would also need to attain a 60-seat majority in the Senate to overcome a possible minority party filibuster by the Republicans, assuming their united opposition. Note that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed in the Senate by a 60-39 vote, with not a single Republican senator voting for the bill.
A 60-seat Senate majority for the Democrats is not very likely to happen in 2020. Evidently, the Democrats will have 47 seats in the Senate once the 2018 midterm election results are finalized. The most aggressive current projection from a Democratic perspective regarding their Senate prospects in 2020 is a flipping of five seats presently held by Republicans (in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, and North Carolina), resulting in a 52-seat majority. However, even that outcome would be eight seats short of the 60 needed. Thus, it appears that it would take some combination of executive branch meltdown (e.g., impeachment proceedings) and retirements by multiple Republican senators during the next two years in order for voters to flip an additional seven seats in the Senate to the Democrats in 2020.
That being said, in politics—especially during these unconventional times—a lot can transpire in two years. At a minimum, while politics remains “the art of the possible,” the concept of Medicare for All will continue to be a formidable policy alternative among the various options for changing the U.S. healthcare system.