Joel Stinnett | Nashville Business Journal
Many Democrats across the nation have made health care the central issue in their midterm election campaigns, but at least one prominent Nashville politician and doctor doesn’t think the issue is going to persuade independents to vote blue.
“People don’t vote on issues in midterm elections. Midterm elections are like a barbell: the middle doesn’t vote,” former U.S Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said. “Who is going to activate their base? That’s who’s going to win the elections. It’s not going to be on health care itself; it’s how well health care is used to activate the base.”
Frist was one of four panelists to speak at the Nashville Health Care Council’s “Election 2018 and the Future of Health Care” luncheon Friday at the Omni Hotel. He was joined on stage by Sheila Burke, chair of government relations and public policy for Baker Donelson; Doug Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum; and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
With voters set to go to the polls on Nov. 6 and many states already engaged in early voting, including Tennessee, panelists were asked how the issue of health care would impact the election.
Daschle, a Democrat from South Dakota, said he believed Democrats are winning the health care debate nationally and that he expects it will be reflected in the election results.
“The pre-existing condition debate has captured the imagination of a lot of voters,” Daschle said. “I would say that so far, the Democrats have probably been able to benefit more from that debate than Republicans. This is the first time in probably 10 years that is the case. Usually it’s the Republicans that have been able to benefit more from a debate around health.”
Democrats have made the popularity of health coverage for pre-existing conditions, part of the Affordable Care Act, a dominant theme in their bid to reclaim the U.S. House and Senate. While Frist, a Republican, didn’t disagree that Democrats may be winning the health care debate, he contended that President Donald Trump would be a much bigger factor. He said that 40 percent of voters cited President Barack Obama as an influence in how they would vote prior to the 2014 midterm elections, while 67 percent say President Trump will influence their vote in this election.
“Kaiser [Health Tracking Poll] has looked not just at the issues that mean the most, but also what is going to cause you to vote; and it’s not health care, it’s not immigration. It is, ultimately, who is going to agree with me more in my local area,” Frist said. “What happens in the next few days, what Trump does … in large part is going to determine these elections, it’s not going to be health care.”
When the election is over, both senators said there is room for bipartisan legislation concerning issues such as transparency in drug pricing, community health centers, opioids and telemedicine. However, both agreed Congress was too divided to pass any sweeping health care changes, including the repeal of the ACA. As for President Trump, Frist said he doesn’t expect him to change after the election either.
“We don’t have a president now who is going to lead on health care,” Frist said. “Our elected officials’ votes reflect who we are, that’s what our government is all about. Health care is local … so if you really want to effect leadership you have to start locally.”