By Hope Ditto
If you chose to partake in what HuffPo referred to yesterday as “ your country’s empty displays of patriotic kitsch” — aka a State of the Union Drinking Game — last night, I certainly hope health care wasn’t one of your buzzwords.
President Obama delivered his 4th State of the Union (SOTU) address to Congress last night, outlining his goals and his priorities for the nation in the coming year, and – as Sarah Kliff from the Washington Post’s WonkBlog put it – “For health policy wonks, Tuesday night’s State of the Union speech wasn’t a thriller.”
In fact, in his nearly 70-minute, 7,000 word address, “President Obama mentioned Medicare and Medicaid… once. ‘Health care’ got two shout-outs. The Affordable Care Act? Not even a name-check,” (per Kliff).
To think of it another way, consider how Daily Briefing editor Dan Diamond broke it down — the president spent 44 words on health reform, accounting for 0.6% of the total speech.
As Politico pointed out, “Obama spent so little time on the [health reform] law that he didn’t even acknowledge an audience member the White House had brought to the speech — a cancer survivor who could have been an example of someone with a pre-existing condition who was helped by the law.”
The White House had announced earlier Tuesday that this young man, Adam Rapp, would be sitting in the first lady’s box. Rapp was diagnosed with testicular cancer on his 23rd birthday, the same day that he would have lost health insurance coverage were it not for the Affordable Care Act (per CBS) – a potentially powerful testament touting the impact of ACA, and yet one that went unmentioned.
All of this is more staggering when you consider what a departure it represents from years past.
Medscape Medical News reports that, “Obama mentioned either “healthcare” or “health insurance” only 3 times, compared to 6 references in 2011 and 10 in 2010.”
The California Healthline blog lays it out a bit differently, explaining that, “Two years ago, the president spoke for several minutes — a total of 570 words — in urging Congress to pass the Affordable Care Act. Last night, Obama devoted just 44 words to his health reforms — never once touting the law’s actual impact, like 2.5 million young Americans gaining coverage through the ACA. In comparison, the president spent more than 130 words on his renewed cause of streamlining the government.”
And for you visual learners and/or infographics enthusiasts like myself out there, Dan Diamond tweeted this graphic a few hours ago, which I think best serves to drive the point home.
Wondering what Obama spent 70 commercial-free minutes talking about, then? According to the Washington Post, the economy mostly. Check out WaPo’s interactive infographic breaking down the speech by time spent/mentions per subject, and how this year’s spread compares to his previous SOTUs, here.
Meanwhile, the GOP rebuttal, delivered by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, was only marginally better to us health wonks – at least for our interest’s sake. While it steered clear of “repeal and replace,” it did echo Rep. Paul Ryan’s pitch for an overhaul of entitlement programs.
“Medicare and Social Security have served us well, and that must continue. But after half and three-quarters of a century respectively, it’s not surprising that they need some repairs,” Daniels said. “We can preserve them unchanged and untouched for those now in or near retirement, but we must fashion a new, affordable safety net so future Americans are protected, too.”
No one would deny that the SOTU, above all, is an act of political theater. But were there even more theatrics occurring last night than usual? Many Beltway insiders have seemed to indicate this, saying that the SOTU was not only a list of goals for the year, but also, as Kliff put it, “an opening campaign gambit.”
If that is the case, it raises some interesting questions about what we can expect to hear in the fall. After all, as The Hill’s Healthwatch blog pointed out, “Although Democrats insist that Obama will be able to campaign on the healthcare law, it was almost entirely absent from a speech that helped establish the themes and frames of his reelection campaign.”
Just because the president seems to be steering the narrative away from health care so far doesn’t mean it won’t be issue in the upcoming presidential election. Odds are that the Republican nominee – whoever it turns out he (or she… hey, you never know!) may be – will want to discuss health reform, as it has certainly been a hot topic on the campaign trail.
How important of an issue do you think health reform will be in the upcoming election? Will a candidate’s position on health reform and the Affordable Care Act impact your decision to support him or her? Tell us your thoughts in the Comments section below!