Blog Post

What to expect from tonight's State of the Union

January 20, 2015

    Juliette Mullin, Senior Editor

    The State of Union has historically been a prime-time moment for the health care industry. According to MedPage Today, every president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt (save one) has detailed a proposal to improve health care during their annual address.

    That's held true for President Obama too: Health care has been a major component of nearly every one of his State of the Union addresses to date. Last year, he spent some time highlighting various Affordable Care Act (ACA) success stories, promising to do more for veterans' health care, and addressing GOP efforts to repeal the health law. And previous addresses have touched on the rising cost of prescription drugs, proposed raising premiums for higher-income Medicare beneficiaries, and outlined the administration's ambitious health reform goals.

    Tonight, Obama is expected to tell the GOP-controlled Congress about the ACA's success stories. He may also talk about the national and global response to the largest Ebola outbreak in history. However, the policy proposals in the president's address tonight may not sound like health care proposals. Obama has made the usual move of campaigning for his State of the Union agenda before the address this year, which means we already have a good idea that he will focus on taxes, community college, housing, manufacturing, and cybersecurity.

    But make no mistake: Obama's agenda for 2015 is laden with proposals that could have a major impact for health care. (And aides have suggested that the president may have some surprises up his sleeve.)

    In addition to possible mentions of the success of the ACA, combatting Medicare fraud, health care jobs, and other direct health care mentions, here are some proposals that could be important for the health care industry:

    • Free community college for all. The Daily Briefing last week reviewed how Obama's proposal to make community college free could mean more qualified workers for health care at an important moment for the industry. "The tuition right now is preventing many people from entering the profession, so this will alleviate some of the shortages that exist," says Gerard Anderson, director of the Center for Hospital Finance and Management at Johns Hopkins University.

    • A plan for a cheaper, faster internet. Obama on Tuesday night will likely make the case for free, faster internet access for all. He argues that government should help expand access to high-speed Internet and says he will push back on laws in 19 states that prevent local governments from establishing municipal Internet services. Broader access to high-speed Internet can be important for data sharing in health care and for patient access to health information.

    • Cybersecurity. President Obama has detailed a proposal designed to prompt legislation on cybersecurity, which he said is "a growing public safety and public health" concern as more data are stored online. Under the new plan, the federal government would grant limited liability protection to companies that promptly share cyberthreat information with the government. The Health Information Trust Alliance in an emailed statement said that it "applauds the White House's proposal to encourage increased cyberthreat information sharing between the private sector and government."

    • Sick leave for all. President Obama last week announced executive and legislative initiatives bolstering paid family leave for federal employees and outlined a proposal to encourage more states to implement paid family and medical leave policies. The proposal's implications for the health care workforce—and the overall health of American workers—could be significant.

    Obama's sixth State of the Union address is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. on Tuesday night. The GOP response—delivered by Sen. Joni Ernst (Iowa)—will follow the speech, and it will likely address the ACA and include proposals to alter or discard provisions of the law. Check Wednesday's Daily Briefing for our takeaways on the speeches.

    The takeaway: It's unclear if President Obama will spend a lot of time discussing health care in Tuesday night's State of the Union address. But even proposals that are not specific to health care could have a major impact on the industry.

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