The CDC prides itself on being nonpartisan. When it comes to helping chronic disease patients, we believe that both parties have done well in some areas and both parties have made mistakes.
When looking at 2020, we are generally pleased with the outcomes. Most victorious candidates, at the House, Senate and Presidential level, voiced strong support for patient rights and patient access. In fact, we can’t think of a single serious winning federal candidate who did not offer unwavering support and commitment to people with preexisting conditions and serious health concerns.
President-elect Joe Biden has a long career of active commitment to health and patient issues, and of course expressed his strong support for patient rights time and again during the long campaign cycle. We also appreciate that the cabinet and top appointed positions related to health care that he has announced so far have all been people with strong commitment to patient issues.
2. States look ready for pro-patient reform
In the same vein, pro-patient candidates did well in 2020 in state legislative and gubernatorial races. Each state has wildly different political dynamics, but the fact that pro-patient candidates did well from California to Connecticut means that recent state-level reform movements will certainly continue – and likely even accelerate – next year.
In the last few years, we have seen great strides forward in some areas. For example, many states have now passed or soon will pass restrictions on the ability of insurance companies to discriminate against patients by using unfair step therapy protocols. Next year, we will see even more pro-patient reform work as state legislatures take on issues like copay accumulators, surprise medical billing and artificial “in-network” restrictions.
The arms race against special interests bent on denying full treatment access and coverage to chronic disease patient will, unfortunately, not end soon. But we take some comfort that good candidates and increased legislative awareness have leveled the playing field for patients over recent years, and we are excited to see further gains next year.
3. Innovation matters
Okay, so this isn’t exactly an election takeaway, but we are all excited and grateful that vaccines for COVID-19 are imminent. Chronic disease patients will, in most states, be eligible for vaccinations in the second phase of distribution, just after front-line health workers and people living in assisted-living facilities. This is great news! And what an amazing testimony to the science and innovation of those companies and teams that developed the vaccines.
Innovation matters, which is something that those of us in the chronic disease community have long appreciated. We all want better treatments, better therapeutics, better results, longer lives and eventual cures. We get those things through risk and innovation.
This is also why we must voice opposition to discriminatory policies, like the recent Most Favored Nation (MFN) drug pricing rule. MFN, which is currently moving forward through executive order and Medicare/Medicaid rulemaking, would place unprecedented constraints on new drug and treatment innovations. It is extraordinarily bad policy that we are working hard to defeat, and we are hopeful that the new president and the next congress will work to stop it.
4. COVID-19 created new awareness around disproportionate health impacts
The pandemic has been hard for most and brutal for some. We learned early-on, during the first few months of the pandemic, that people with pre-existing conditions, especially immune-system disorders, were particularly vulnerable to the virus and its deadly effects. People with diabetes, heart disease, asthma and renal disease, to name just a few, seemingly woke up one morning in early 2020 to find that difficult personal challenges of disease management just got much more difficult.
We also learned that racial minorities, insomuch as suffering disproportionate impacts from certain chronic diseases, also suffered disproportionate impacts from COVID-19. As bad as this is, the increased awareness around the disproportionate impact of disease and COVID-19 among racial minorities, as well as increased awareness of the clear disparities that exist in access to treatment for minorities, is a potential silver lining of the pandemic. Solutions here will not be easy. But at least elected and health care leaders are starting to have these conversations in meaningful ways. Change starts with awareness.
5. Patient voices have never been more important
Elections and new leaders, growing levels of chronic diseases, a pandemic, treatment advances, new insurance rules and hurdles, not to mention a dramatically changing world, all mean one thing: It’s never been more important for your voice to be heard! If this election taught us anything it taught us the value of patient voices and patient advocacy. Health care and affordable access ranked among the most important issues that voters considered in 2020. This is no surprise.
Of course, COVID-19 was top of mind for everyone. But let’s also not forget that more than 100 million Americans suffer from chronic disease, and of course many of these people have multiple conditions. We don’t define ourselves by our diseases. Nevertheless, those of us with chronic diseases make up an incredibly large voting block and constituency. We have a huge voice, made even bigger if we can leverage sophisticated organizational, media and coalition support. And given the myriad challenges of our times, especially with the difficult public-sector resource demands due to COVID-19, using that voice to demand change, access and chronic disease patient rights has never been more important.