The results of the 2018 U.S. midterm elections are in, and the winds of change are blowing as the United States approaches what could be a significant shift from ‘business as usual’ over recent years – especially as it relates to healthcare policy and beyond.
With healthcare cited as a leading factor for 2018 mid-term election voters (among 41 percent of voters considered it the top issue facing the country), we sought expertise from Samantha Burch, senior director of Congressional Affairs at HIMSS. Here are some highlights she offered and insights for us to keep in mind as we approach a new horizon for future legislative action in healthcare.
After the 2016 election results shocked many Americans, Burch was prepared for anything as she watched the polls and results as they came in throughout election night. “I think that everyone learned from 2016 that polls are one indicator and they can also be incredibly unreliable,” said Burch. However, she wasn’t overly surprised at the 2018 midterm election results.
“I think if you look at the macro picture of how things broke down – with Democrats taking the House and Republicans retaining the Senate – I’m not sure that the overall picture was a surprise,” Burch added.
One area getting a lot of attention, Burch noted, is the new oversight structure in the House, with House Democrats now having subpoena power. “I think as we see where all of the chips fall when it comes to committee leadership, and the changes on the Senate side, such as who takes over the Finance Committee – we’ll start to see some agendas become more concrete.”
A number one priority for the HIMSS Government Relations team following every election is making sure new members are educated on the most pressing policy issues facing health information and technology, Burch said. The team looks closely at synergies and backgrounds of members, intersecting interests and backgrounds in the health IT space and new members on committees of jurisdiction.
“We’re there to educate any member who wants an education in health IT, so that’s generally what I think about when prioritizing engagement. It’s an exciting challenge, and everybody tends to get very excited about this space because it’s solutions-oriented,” she said. “That’s why they came to Congress, so we try to harness that new member excitement and look at what we can achieve together.”
Burch strongly emphasized the importance of bipartisanship in order to continue making progress in the advancement of health IT policy.
“I think we’ve gone through an interesting transition over the past few years, where it used to be health IT for health IT’s sake when it came to legislation. Now health IT is interwoven into these larger policy issues,” she said.
“The opioid epidemic and the 21st Century Cures Act are great examples; even MACRA is a great example. It used to be that there were these standalone health IT bills, and it was really hard to get anything done. Now there’s more opportunities,” Burch explained. “The CURES Act was such a bipartisan, once-in-a-century type of legislation that everyone was invested in it.”
“I think health IT is an area that does really well in a situation where Congress is trying to achieve some policy goals without spending large sums of money. I think this was the case with some of the opioid provisions we got through – whether it was electronic prescribing of controlled substances, telehealth or some of the other related provisions, where there was a desire to do something in a fiscally constrained environment. Now, healthcare IT is engrained in healthcare, and I don’t see healthcare in and of itself becoming less partisan than it is now,” Burch explained. “Bipartisanship will have to continue in order to get anything done.”
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