Current Events

State of the Union 2015: A Healthcare Review

The Healthcare Economist’s annual tradition is upon us. I review the President’s State of the Union address, identify all healthcare related comments, and provide commentary.  So without futher ado…

And in the past year alone, about ten million uninsured Americans finally gained the security of health coverage.

The President pats himself on the back for the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare)

At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious; that we would crush jobs and explode deficits. Instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health care inflation at its lowest rate in fifty years.

Everyone likes fewer uninsured. Critics of Obamacare claimed that expanding health insurance would increase deficits and hurt the economy. The President claims that the ACA caused neither of those things. However, a rebound from the Great Recession is likely the reason that the economy is growing; the bigger issue is whether the government–particularly state governments that expanded Medicaid–will be able to afford the additional costs in the long-run.

Today, we’re the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers. Forty-three million workers have no paid sick leave. Forty-three million. Think about that. And that forces too many parents to make the gut-wrenching choice between a paycheck and a sick kid at home. So I’ll be taking new action to help states adopt paid leave laws of their own. And since paid sick leave won where it was on the ballot last November, let’s put it to a vote right here in Washington. Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave. It’s the right thing to do.

Living in California, this is one of the few states that has paid maternity leave. This certainly drives up costs for employers–since California maternity leave is covered by short-term disability–but is an added benefit most families appreciate. Will paid maternity leave increase the fertility rate and increase the number of kids born in the US? Likely not significantly, but there could be a small impact. Regarding paid sick leave, it is unclear whether this provision would apply to part-time workers or not and how much sick leave would be guaranteed. Again, this provision would drive up labor cost, but is a nice benefit for workers.

21st century businesses will rely on American science, technology, research and development. I want the country that eliminated polio and mapped the human genome to lead a new era of medicine – one that delivers the right treatment at the right time. In some patients with cystic fibrosis, this approach has reversed a disease once thought unstoppable. Tonight, I’m launching a new Precision Medicine Initiative to bring us closer to curing diseases like cancer and diabetes – and to give all of us access to the personalized information we need to keep ourselves and our families healthier.

Vox has a nice summary of this initiative, saying “Precision medicine describes a growing movement in medicine to build treatments specifically targeted to an individual’s genetic make-up. While the White House hasn’t specified how big this initiative will be, the idea is to invest more in these more individualized types of medicine that many experts see as the future of health care.”

In West Africa, our troops, our scientists, our doctors, our nurses and healthcare workers are rolling back Ebola – saving countless lives and stopping the spread of disease. I couldn’t be prouder of them, and I thank this Congress for your bipartisan support of their efforts. But the job is not yet done – and the world needs to use this lesson to build a more effective global effort to prevent the spread of future pandemics, invest in smart development, and eradicate extreme poverty.

A very important point; fighting Ebola and other contagious diseases is one of the things (along with warfare) that could bring down societies. Continuing to fund research to fight contagious disease is essential, especially when the public may not be as concerned about these diseases.

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