Health care issues are always on the ballot, and voters support better access.
On Election Day, I watched several hours of election coverage that didn’t openly say anything about reforming the health system. Yet, American voters know that how we do business of the health system is not sustainable.
We cannot support trillions of dollars each year (mostly through our taxes) of health care delivery that is poor quality, highly inefficient and leaves our patients in debt. Election news coverage often mentions inflation and abortion as issues motivating many voters. Both of those are, of course, health care problems.
American consumers have seen health care prices rise stratospherically for years, while health care benefits have outpaced wage growth. Health care in America is an economic kitchen table issue because it is mostly taxpayer funded, and therefore, like all such issues, will be on every ballot.
Abortion is, by its very nature, a medical procedure and, in many circumstances, such as an ectopic pregnancy, an urgent and life-saving one. Providing the necessary legal protections for physicians and patients to freely make clinical decisions will therefore be on every ballot. But at least two health reform votes were openly on the ballot in the recently concluded election — one in a US Senate race in Pennsylvania and the other a ballot measure in South Dakota.
Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, who flipped that state’s open US Senate seat from red to blue, openly put health system reform on the ballot. His campaign website reads: “I believe health care is a basic, fundamental human right, not a privilege. But health care in America is very expensive and complicated. In the richest country on Earth, I believe That we have a moral duty to guarantee quality health care coverage for every American and to end the reprehensible practice of corporations profiting from the health and well-being of the people.
Fetterman proves that politicians in swing states can win by embracing comprehensive health system reform, as American voters, whether red or blue, should know.
There is an underlying desire to find a way to fund health care for everyone, even in red states. Earlier this year, six red states saw the question of Medicaid expansion come to a vote through ballot initiatives. In all of those states — Idaho, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Utah — voters chose to expand Medicaid even though the respective legislatures had already voted it down.
This year saw a similar ballot initiative open to voters in a seventh state, South Dakota. And again, red state voters passed Medicaid expansion. Together, these ballot measures would bring nearly 900,000 low-income people on the Medicaid rolls nationwide.
Why are these ballot measures succeeding? One analyst suggested three reasons: hearing from neighbors who would benefit, diverting federal tax dollars back to the state and protecting the solvency of rural hospitals and health clinics. Assuming that those reasons reflect the reality of health care ballot measures, I would suggest that more broad reforms of the business of health care could also be accomplished with ballot initiatives.
For 75 years, American taxpayers have been trying to give themselves and their neighbors the gift of universal health care. We want our neighbors to get the care they need. We all want our fair share of federal taxation to be spent for the purpose of bettering the lives of ourselves and those around us.
We see the failure of corporate medicine in rural America and we know we cannot leave any person or part of America behind. American voters will not deal with health care issues until we find a way to provide better, simpler, and therefore less expensive care to every American citizen.
Joseph Q Jarvis, MD, Salt Lake City, is a public health physician and author of two books about health system reform, “The Purple World: Healing the Harm in American Health Care” and “For the Heart of My People: Basic Conservatism and Better, simple health care, He is the executive producer of the soon to be released documentary film: “Healing US”.