By Daranee Yongpradit, Health Policy Fellow, CSPC
Source: Washington Post - Word cloud using text from President Obama’s 2012 State of the Union Address
For a topic that is arguably Obama’s most significant domestic policy accomplishment — the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed in 2010 — health care received almost no mention during last week’s State of the Union. Many people tagged this year’s State of the Union as Obama’s campaign roadmap, so where does this place healthcare in his election priorities?
Throughout his entire speech, Obama mentioned “health care” or “health insurance” a total of 3 times, compared to 6 in 2011 and 10 in 2010. Despite these few references, he did reaffirm his refusal to back down on health care reform, “I will not go back to the days when health insurance companies had unchecked power to cancel your policy, deny your coverage or charge women differently from men.”
Part of the reason for the Affordable Care Act’s omission may be its complexity. The law itself is a series of provisions, some of which were either implemented immediately with the ACA’s passage in 2010, shortly thereafter, or wait to become effective in 2014. Because of the staged roll-out of these provisions, many Americans are confused by what is actually covered by the ACA and what is not.
Additionally, Obama may not have wanted to draw attention to the ACA in light of the upcoming Supreme Court case filed by 26 states alleging that parts of the ACA, in particular the “Individual Mandate” which would require all individuals to purchase health insurance or pay a fine, are unconstitutional. According to the latest Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll (January 2012), only a minority of the American public would like to see the law repealed entirely (22%), while 44% said they had an unfavorable view.
Moreover, most Americans would rather hear about the creation of jobs and economic recovery. In a recent USA TODAY/Gallup poll, only 11% of the 1005 adults surveyed answered that health care was the most important issue for Obama to address during the State of the Union. With such a divide created by partisan politics, Obama promoted unifying people under the banner of an American economy with reduced outsourcing. He highlighted his successes, such as the complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq and eliminating Osama bin Laden. He emphasized taxes and deficit reduction, calling for a minimum 30 percent tax rate for annual incomes greater than $1 million.
Regardless of political affiliation and personal opinions aside, health care reform is one of the most important issues facing this country. The Affordable Care Act remains a cornerstone of Obama’s accomplishments during this term. Although not explicitly mentioned, it still occupies much of his attention as he tries to ensure that many of its policies are enacted. While the ACA provides promise for the future, Obama’s current focus is on economic prosperity in the present.