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The Possible Health Implications of the 2020 Election

October 28, 2020
Election discussion panel
(left to right, first row) Diane Smith, Karen Donelan, Elissa Ladd (second row) Alex Hoyt, Joshua Merson, Kathy Simmonds (bottom) Lisa Quinn

Watch a video of the event.

“The most important thing is that clients have access to our services,” said Dr. Diane Smith, a professor of occupational therapy at MGH Institute of Health Professions. “There’s been an increase in loss of coverage recently. We’re so employer based in our insurance that, often, when you lose your job, you lose your insurance.”

Smith was among several Institute faculty who were panelists during “What’s at Stake? Health Implications of the Election,” a panel event held October 26 via Zoom that drew over 240 MGH Institute students, faculty, and staff plus colleagues from the Mass General Brigham system. The panel discussed and took questions on how the November 3 election could affect health care coverage and cost, the health workforce, and reproductive health. Karen Donelan, the Stuart H. Altman Chair in U.S. Health Policy at Brandeis University, served as facilitator.

Smith, along with Professor of Nursing Dr. Elissa Ladd and Assistant Professor of Nursing Dr. Alex Hoyt, discussed the election’s implications for health care coverage and cost. “Much of the difference in the candidates is a referendum on the Affordable Care Act,” noted Hoyt. He explained how a lawsuit brought by 20 states could overturn the act, allowing health insurance companies to offer plans that are “less expensive but less comprehensive.” 

Ladd addressed prescription drug costs, comparing the more laissez-faire approach of the Trump Administration with candidate Biden’s proposal to implement a variety of cost control measures. Some solutions that Biden offers include allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices and mandating insulin be sold at international market prices. “You may have heard Trump say in the debate that insulin is as cheap as water,” said Ladd. “That is not true.”

Assistant Professor of Nursing Dr. Lisa Quinn and Assistant Professor of Physician Assistant Studies Josh Merson discussed the election’s implications for the health workforce. Quinn noted that there are 14,000 “dreamers” in the health care workforce, individuals who were brought to the U.S. as young children and granted temporary protected status during President Barack Obama’s presidency that was subsequently revoked by President Donald Trump. Former Vice President and current presidential candidate Joseph Biden plans to reinstate the Obama-era regulations if elected.

Merson talked about local politics in Massachusetts. He discussed how scant legislative action has been taken since the COVID-19 pandemic began due to the state Legislature’s inability to meet remotely. Governor Charlie Baker, however, issued an emergency decree that both expanded physician assistants' and nurse practitioners’ scope of practice to prevent staffing shortages, and mandated insurance companies reimburse 100% for telemedicine, to ensure delivery of care when non-urgent in-person health care services were canceled. “Future legislative action will likely include some permanent codification of these emergency measures,” Merson predicted.

Dr. Kathy Simmonds, an associate professor of nursing, spoke on how reproductive health care may change depending on both election results and the new Supreme Court with newest associate justice Amy Coney Barrett giving the conservatives a 6-3 margin. Simmonds discussed how, if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, abortion policy would default back to the states. “Providers are discussing contingency plans like locating clinics near state lines and offering self-abortion using medication," she said.

Donelan closed the event by speaking on partisanship and unity. “It’s rarely the case that for more than two years at a time we’ve had the same party in the Senate, House, and Presidency, and a lot of policy has been made even under divided government,” she said. “We need a new way to understand what uniting a nation looks like in this time of partisanship and division.” 

-    Andrew Criscione