Policy experts gathered in a virtual town hall Thursday to weigh in on what they saw as pivotal healthcare issues in the upcoming election.
American Medical Association President Dr. Susan Bailey said that the AMA has been in support of the Affordable Care Act for many years.
As a nonpartisan organization, she said, the AMA “encourages working on improving the ACA, as opposed to ditching it for a single-payer plan or another plan that hasn’t been elucidated yet.”
“We believe it’s crucial that all Americans have affordable, meaningful coverage,” said Bailey.
Dr. Jamila Taylor, director of healthcare reform and senior fellow at the progressive think tank Century Foundation, said that when it comes to the presidential race, former Vice President Joe Biden is “focused on expanding healthcare for the American people and building on the ACA.”
President Donald Trump, she argued, is not. “It was very disappointing,” she continued, that “negotiations had been abandoned in terms of the next coronavirus response package.”
Hosted by the digital health brand Healthline.com, the live town hall was convened to address “critical health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Panelists also discussed the late-breaking news of Trump’s vocal refusal to attend a virtual debate, currently scheduled for October 15.
“I respect the decision of the debate commission to hold the debate virtually,” said Bailey. “We have been talking about how important it is to wear masks, to social distance, to wash your hands, to avoid crowds … since the early days of this pandemic.” And every event nationwide should “follow these basic guidelines,” she continued. “I hope the president will change his mind.”
Taylor agreed. Given Trump’s recent positive COVID-19 diagnosis, she said she was “just baffled” at his reluctance to attend the event virtually. She noted that the health of everyone at the debate, including the essential workers involved in its presentation, would be at stake. Changing his mind, she said, is “in the best interest of everyone.”
After the panel, Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien issued a statement saying that the next two debates should be moved back one week, to October 22 and October 29, so that Trump could debate Biden in person. It is not clear whether the president will still be contagious at that point.
WHY IT MATTERS
In addition to policy issues such as the Affordable Care Act, panelists also discussed drug pricing, systemic racism in the healthcare industry and the Black maternal health crisis.
There’s no question that the cost of medication, said Bailey, is “completely out of control.” The AMA is concerned about the overall lack of transparency in drug pricing, she continued, saying that a “generic is not a generic anymore necessarily.”
Taylor pointed out that, although the country has made great strides since the passage of the ACA, gaps remain – and those gaps tend to fall hardest on people of color, especially in states that have not expanded Medicaid. “Coverage alone will not fix healthcare disparities.” Anti-racism training for healthcare personnel must be routine and ongoing.
“Any plans or strategies to address or reckon with racial justice as a whole has to do with addressing this concept in the healthcare system as well,” Taylor said.
Bailey said that, while it is “incredibly challenging” to confront systemic racism, it is also vital for leaders at every level, including those at medical organizations and healthcare systems, to look at the ways they might be perpetuating disparities.
“The responsibility starts at home,” she said.
Medical racism contributes to the Black maternal mortality crisis, said Healthline writer Alexis Dent. She pointed out that Black women are four times more likely to die as a result of childbirth than white women.
“What’s at stake [in this election] is not only equal access to healthcare, but equitable access to healthcare,” Dent said. “Quite frankly, evidence-based healthcare is at stake in this election.”
THE LARGER TREND
Biden and Trump’s diverging views on healthcare have taken the spotlight amid the presidential and vice presidential debates.
Even before the current election cycle, however, Biden had criticized Trump’s digital health policy, saying the president’s plans to fix interoperability roadblocks were insufficient.
“The industry has had ample opportunity to voluntarily address the issues of interoperability and putting data in patients’ hands, and they have not done so,” Biden wrote in a Fortune commentary.
Biden’s work with the Cancer Moonshot and the Biden Cancer initiative had made it especially clear to him how important it is for patients to be able to access their own health information, he said.
In 2016, he called on leaders in the health industry to make increasing access to tech-enabled care a priority.
“We need to break down silos that keep research away from the world,” Biden said. “Researchers aren’t incentivized to share data, but they need to share data to find results more rapidly.”
ON THE RECORD
Regarding the upcoming election, Bailey advised: “Be informed. Pay attention to what’s going on.”
It’s likely that voting will look different this year, she said, so “have a plan to vote.”