Analysis: Why the president skipped over health care—and whether it matters

Takeaways for providers

Dan Diamond Dan Diamond, Managing Editor

There was a time—a very, very long time—when working in health care made you the most fascinating person at any cocktail party.

When the political battle over the Affordable Care Act consumed Washington, D.C., and captured the nation's attention.

That time has passed.

In last night's State of the Union, President Obama scarcely mentioned the ACA, his signature policy accomplishment—a marked departure from previous years.


And for health reporters, the lack of a health care story was the story.

"State of the Union address barely mentions health care reform law," Jen Haberkorn wrote in Politico. "Obama Largely Avoids Health Care In State Of The Union," was the title on Sam Baker's story in The Hill.

(Since providers are being pushed to be accountable, the Daily Briefing will strive for accountability too; yesterday's preview had anticipated a bigger role for health care in last night's speech.)

Writing on the Washington Post's "Wonkblog," Sarah Kliff put the lack of health care reform mentions in perspective: Neither the president nor his rival Republicans have much to gain politically from revisiting a much-debated issue. They also don't have much new to say.

What Obama did say
Whether word counts are revealing or mere Kremlinology, there were still several takeaways for health care providers from last night's address.

For example, the president noted his ongoing focus to streamline the federal government, with a continued push to reduce unnecessary or outdated rules. Simplifying the regulatory environment would have significant implications for health care, given the raft of restrictions facing providers on a daily basis.  

That effort may get a boost from the president's newest cabinet member: Jeff Zients, who took the helm at the White House Office of Management and Budget last week.

The nation's first Chief Performance Officer—and the Advisory Board's former CEO—Zients oversaw a government-wide initiative in 2011 to roll back unnecessary regulations. CMS in October discussed the initiative's impact on the health care sector, with respect to new spending and what providers are now allowed to do.

What's next
Meanwhile, health care's dimmed national prominence may be only temporary.

The presidential campaign will keep the Affordable Care Act in the political conversation. Providers' work to shift their strategy and accomodate the federal health reform law continues to receive plenty of attention.

And two months from tomorrow, the Supreme Court kicks off its three days of hearings over the Affordable Care Act's constitutionality.

So plan your end-of-March social calendar accordingly. You may not be the most interesting person in the world, but you'll probably be the most interesting person at that weekend's cocktail parties.

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