Harvard professors share perspectives on election’s effect on health reform

This is a guest post from Gideon Gil, Boston Globe health and science editor, AHCJ board member and chair of AHCJ’s Boston chapter.

BOSTON — Don’t look for Republicans in Congress to diminish their efforts to stymie implementation of the Affordable Care Act. That’s the message delivered Wednesday evening by two Harvard School of Public Health professors who were the guests of the Boston chapter of the Association of Health Care Journalists.AHCJ Chapter Event

Braving this season’s first snow, John McDonough, a former Senate health committee Democratic staffer who worked on the health law, and Robert Blendon, a leading pollster on health issues, joined a half-dozen AHCJ members at Lucky’s Lounge in Boston to socialize and analyze the election results.

Both said the House GOP could attempt to slow the launch of the federal health insurance exchange – an online portal that would provide one-stop shopping for private health plans – by zeroing out funding for the exchange’s operating costs. Legislators, however, can’t touch funding for federal subsidies to help lower-income people buy coverage through the exchange, McDonough said.

Republicans have no reason to change their stance on President Obama’s health law because they suffered no repercussions at the polls Tuesday for their vigorous opposition to it, Blendon said.

Health care issues overall didn’t seem to be much on voters’ minds. Elderly voters were strong supporters of the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan ticket, despite Ryan’s budget plan that seeks to curtail Medicare spending, Blendon pointed out.

McDonough said the Obama campaign might have had more success with this group if it had highlighted Romney’s promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, including its provision closing the Medicare drug benefit doughnut hole.

Turning to the Massachusetts health law, both praised Gov. Deval Patrick’s appointment of Stuart Altman, a highly regarded health policy professor from Brandeis University, to lead the state’s Health Policy Commission. The commission, created under a health cost-control law passed this year, has the difficult task of setting health care spending goals and tracking providers’ progress toward reducing costs.

McDonough and Blendon said Altman has the independence and standing – he has worked in both Republican and Democratic administrations in Washington – to be effective and bring national attention to Massachusetts’ attempts to restrain medical spending.

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