State of the Union: Should Obama Have Said More About Healthcare?

January 29, 2012

For physicians, paying attention to the healthcare law and future healthcare policies is more important than ever.

President Obama spent what seemed like about 10 seconds making any mention of healthcare during Tuesday’s State of the Union address. 

The shortage of time didn’t go unnoticed: Several news-media outlets pointed out the scant mention of the Affordable Care Act, while quoting sources and citing facts that underscored the reasons why paying attention to the healthcare law is more important than ever.

A news story that ran in Politico noted the healthcare reform law, which has gotten support from about 42 percent of Americans in recent polls, “is Obama's most significant domestic policy accomplishment but only got a fleeting mention Tuesday.”

That fleeting mention was Obama’s statement that he “will not go back to the days when health insurance companies had unchecked power to cancel your policy, deny you coverage, or charge women differently from men.”

What’s interesting, said Politico writer Jennifer Haberkorn, is that “Obama spent so little time on the law that he didn’t even acknowledge an audience member the White House had brought to the speech. The White House announced earlier Tuesday that Adam Rapp, an Illinois resident who would have lost his health insurance when he was diagnosed with cancer were it not for the Affordable Care Act, would be sitting in the first lady’s box in the House chamber.

Meanwhile, longtime free-market healthcare activist Sally C. Pipes told Medscape that Obama’s decision not to speak about the healthcare law wasn’t an accidental oversight.

“Doctors are waking up to the fact that this brand of health reform isn't good for medicine,” said Pipes in a Q&A-style interview. “Numerous studies have shown that there will be a severe shortage of primary-care physicians and general surgeons. Doctors are already quitting medicine early and going into other professions … What will happen under Obamacare is that the best and brightest minds won't go into medicine. We see already that half of graduating doctors go to work for hospitals rather than enter private practice … Under the new Accountable Care Organizations, there will be strong incentive for doctors to cut back on the quality of care given to seniors in order to reduce costs. The Obama Administration would like to see the whole healthcare system operate this way, like a giant HMO, where the greatest rewards are for keeping costs down, not promoting quality. This will drastically change how medicine is practiced.”

However, Obama’s lack of time spent discussing healthcare reform in comparison to 2010’s SOTU address doesn’t mean the administration doesn’t see healthcare as a priority. Maybe it is only expected the election-year speech would be heavily focused on what is perhaps today’s biggest issue: the economy. And that’s an issue affecting everyone in healthcare.

Still, the healthcare law shouldn’t be brushed off by physicians and policy makers, even if it is pushed aside during big speeches - especially because we are in an election year. In fact, it’s more important than ever to pay attention to the different political candidates and their healthcare platforms. Even if the president only gives the topic 10 seconds when assessing the state of the union.

We’d like to hear from you. What did you think of the State of the Union speech? Post your response below.