As the midterm election gets closer, the health policy agenda in Washington focuses more on the issues of greatest concern to voters: healthcare costs.

The Council Perspective: Both parties are gearing up to offer offensive and defensive messaging around healthcare costs as they prepare to face the voters in November. On each side, it is more rhetoric than action, but both are touting some telling language about the costs of care and possible solutions.

  • The Republican-controlled House passed two measures expanding tax-advantaged health savings accounts (HSAs): one that would allow individuals to count gym memberships, certain sports equipment and certain over-the-counter medications as qualified medical expenses and another that would increase the maximum contribution level—more than doubling the annual contribution limit for both single and family coverage in some cases. Of note, these HSA measures, which some on the Hill think may have provisions as a Sen. Hatch legacy item, don’t address the underlying issues of high deductible health plans. The challenge is motivating people to save for future health costs, while acknowledging that many families cannot afford to do that.
  • Democrats are struggling internally to find alignment on the concept of “Medicare for All,” a necessary step toward nailing down what would be their 2019 agenda should they regain control of one or more houses.

While each side has proposed different solutions to address healthcare costs, both have identified education and drug pricing as important topics to discuss and investigate. This Harvard/Politico poll cautions that voters don’t know much about the Administration’s Drug Pricing Blueprint, and those that are familiar don’t believe it will reduce costs.

Fall campaign messaging will likely aim to educate and persuade voters about the various efforts to address healthcare costs. We will keep you informed on what moves appear to be just for optics versus indicative of deeper compromise.