Navigating Gridlock: Healthcare and the Midterms

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The Big Story: Democrats’ midterm hopes fade: ‘We peaked a little early

Fresh polling shows Republicans are gaining ground, particularly among female voters, in the final weeks before the midterm election. Likely voters are citing the economy as their top concern nine times more than abortion. And voters are looking to Republicans when it comes to the economy.

What It Means for You

(3-minute read)

There’s nothing more political than healthcare. Except politics itself (maybe).

A few weeks out from the national midterm elections, the momentum seems to be heading toward a Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives and maybe, possibly, a slim majority in the U.S. Senate, too. Who knows? Every poll you read is a snapshot of a specific moment in time…and every day is a new day.

What do we know?

  1. There will be a shift in Congressional power and the likely result is, effectively, more gridlock. The result will also fuel ever-more energized apocalyptic rhetoric from all political colors, adding to the mental health stress we all feel – you, your colleagues, your patients – and should not be casually dismissed.
  2. State governments and your relationships with your state legislative, administrative and judicial branches will become ever more vital to the sustainability of your organization. Invest organizational time and treasure there. Whatever the outcome, the midterms represent a moment of change, an inflection point. These are opportunities to introduce – or re-introduce – your organization to elected officials and power brokers who will be making or influencing decisions about your organization – how it’s funded, regulated, staffed. Be active in that conversation.
  3. The growing, critical scrutiny of healthcare providers, including traditional health systems and PE-backed services alike, is agnostic to the midterm results and will sharpen as the country continues its slide into an economic recession.

Issues at play

Legal experts pointed out that Democrats are looking at reproductive health, Medicare and Medicaid, health equity and the cost of care.

Republicans are focused on maximizing choice and competition, reducing the paperwork headache for providers, funding scientific and medical programs and giving states room to tighten Medicaid eligibility.

Bipartisan issues? Behavioral health, telehealth, transparency and capping patients’ costs for insulin. In all events…

  • Be prepared for cost of care to grow in importance as an issue at the state and local level. That means more scrutiny when it comes to the dollars and cents of paying for care at your organization. Count on that scrutiny to be direct, and even more personal since it will be coming from close to home.
  • Ditto, Medicaid expansion. It will be gridlocked in D.C. but expect lots of conversation in state houses. Especially with the dozen or so states currently expressing an unwillingness to expand.

Above all, remember that an inflection point doesn’t necessarily require a dramatic shift. It simply requires a door to be cracked open and a thoughtful leader to seize the moment.

Here are some practical steps to help advance your organization, regardless of the Red-Blue split, and keep the people politics on an even keel.

Build trust. Your organization, your leadership team, your messengers and your messages need to be trusted by those who will receive them – elected officials, community members, advocates, detractors, reporters and – above all – your employees.

Building or cementing trust requires time and transparency.  Now is the moment to reinvigorate old relationships and create new ones.

Know what the conversation will be. While whoever wins remains to be seen, a surefire bet is that cost of care will be the core healthcare issue of 2023. We’re talking money.

  • What does care cost?
  • Who is paying for it?
  • Who is responsible for it?

Your organization and spokespeople need to be ready to talk about this difficult, uncomfortable topic. Prices will have to be addressed by someone; better to be out in front of the issue.

Simplify the conversation. Build trust and credibility by making the difficult topic a little easier to grasp. Cost of and access to care are complicated topics. Trying to show people how the money flows through healthcare is like trying to guide them through a hall of mirrors placed inside a corn maze.

Worse still, people get their information in snippets from cable news and social media, aka, pre-selected echo chambers. They’re unlikely to trust a voice that comes from somewhere else, and their attention span is short.

For you, that means you need to think of soundbites. Boil it down to what absolutely must be said and say it transparently, truthfully and concisely. You’re not necessarily going to get the point across or change minds with the first tweet, or even the 100th. But the steady drumbeat – combined with those face-to-face conversations – can slowly move the needle.

Get the right person talking. You know this. You have people in your organization who hold higher levels of trust within your community. Train them and use them to tell your story. Make them available to your local media and have them tag along with your GR team as it meets with your delegations.

Engage the right people to help you. Who influences elected officials? More than the national party, it’s the people living in your community. The thought leaders and business leaders and community leaders. Relationships with these individuals give you a chance to build trust with their audiences and, by extension, influence the people that matter to you. So, have others carry your story. It’s a powerful way to have additional clout with elected officials.

A final thought: Don’t ignore the national conversation. Yes, politics have been nationalized, even if political activity hasn’t. Conversations happening in your halls reflect and feed into national conversations. Your nurses, talking about staffing levels and mental health and pay and labor issues at your hospital, are joining a larger discussion that is echoing through hospital corridors and state houses and the Capitol. So even if you don’t feel the effects of this election through a direct legislative impact, you will still be a drop of water that helps make up the national body of water that is our industry.

This piece was originally published over the weekend in our Sunday Quick Think newsletter. Fill out the form to get that in your inbox every week.

Jarrard Inc.
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