Health care top issue in upcoming midterm elections

With insurance premiums and deductibles skyrocketing, it’s no wonder voters are concerned

 Checking the pulse of U.S. voters finds that health care is the top issue heading into the Nov. 6 midterms. (Shutterstock)

Checking the pulse of U.S. voters finds that health care is the top issue heading into the Nov. 6 midterms. (Shutterstock)

By Ted Cox

A pair of new studies by the Kaiser Family Foundation find insurance premiums and deductibles rising and — not coincidentally — that health care is the top issue for voters heading into the midterm elections.

An annual survey of health benefits released this month by the noted national foundation finds that average premiums for family health coverage are approaching $20,000 a year, and that the increasing use of deductibles to cut corporate costs is even more out of control — far outpacing wages and inflation over the last decade.

The survey found that average premiums for family coverage rose 5 percent this year to $19,616, with employees typically paying more than a quarter of that, $5,547, and employers handling the rest.

Premiums for single coverage rose 3 percent to $6,896, with employees typically handling $1,186 of that, more in line with the 2.6 percent rise in wages and the 2.5 percent rate of inflation. But the study quickly added: “Over time, the increases continue to outpace wages and inflation. Since 2008, average family premiums have increased 55 percent, twice as fast as workers’ earnings (26 percent) and three times as fast as inflation (17 percent).”

With rising health costs acting as a drag on both businesses and workers, it’s little surprise that the use of deductibles to defray those costs and pass them back onto employees is even more out of control.

The survey found that 85 percent of U.S. workers have a deductible in their health plan, up from 81 percent only a year ago and from 59 percent in 2008. The average single deductible is $1,573, up slightly from $1,505 a year ago, but more than double the $735 a decade ago.

“Health costs don’t rise in a vacuum,” said foundation President Drew Altman. “As long as out-of-pocket costs for deductibles, drugs, surprise bills and more continue to outpace wage growth, people will be frustrated by their medical bills and see health costs as huge pocketbook and political issues.”

As long as out-of-pocket costs for deductibles, drugs, surprise bills and more continue to outpace wage growth, people will be frustrated by their medical bills and see health costs as huge pocketbook and political issues.
— Drew Altman, head of the Kaiser Family Foundation

So, likewise, it should come as no surprise that — even in an age of great political division over partisan politics and President Trump — health care is the top issue for voters approaching the midterm elections Nov. 6.

A Kaiser Foundation survey released Thursday found that almost three-quarters of voters, 73 percent, consider a candidate’s character and experience a “major factor” in how they’ll vote. With the heightened partisan political environment, a solid two-thirds of voters, 66 percent, are looking at whether a candidate supports or opposes Trump, and whether the Congress should be Republican or Democrat. That topped even the 51 percent who consider a candidate’s party affiliation a major factor.

But among single issues, health care rose to the top. Some 71 percent of voters considered health care “very important” in determining how they’ll vote, followed by the economy at 64 percent, gun policy at 60 percent, immigration at 55 percent, taxes at 53 percent, and foreign policy at 51 percent.

Asked to select the single most important issue, 30 percent of voters again chose health care, topping the economy and jobs, at 21 percent, and gun policy and immigration, both at 15 percent.

The survey matched a recent poll of 1,200 voters in the “bellwether” states of Florida and Nevada with prevailing national data, finding that in both states more than two-thirds of voters said they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports maintaining the protection for those with pre-existing conditions in the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.