Obama skims over healthcare, puts emphasis on jobs, in final SOTU

Medicare is "more important than ever," Obama said in his speech
Medicare is "more important than ever," Obama said in his speech

Providers looking for President Barack Obama's final State of the Union speech to tackle long-term healthcare issues didn't get much to work with on Tuesday night.

Healthcare policies were largely glossed over during the 58-minute speech, which only saw brief mentions of Medicare and the Affordable Care Act. The one-sentence mention of the president's signature healthcare law was a surprising move given that the address was his final State of the Union, one expert noted.

“I figured that it being the last of the State of the Unions for the president he would take credit for his landmark healthcare achievement, and he basically spent 30 seconds on it,” National Center for Policy Analysis Senior Fellow Devon Herrick Ph.D. told McKnight's.

The ACA's “employer mandate” has not been a hit with providers, as it required employers with at least 50 full-time workers to provide health insurance that met certain requirements for small business plans, or risk paying a penalty.

“I could easily see [providers] weighing whether or not to expand and open a second or third facility simply because they would cross that threshold from 49 to 50 workers,” Herrick said.

A bill amending the mandate to allow states whether to qualify companies with 51 to 100 workers as a small business was passed in October.

In his address, President Obama noted that the Social Security and Medicare programs are “more important than ever,” and that they need to be strengthened. Those remarks assumed “Medicare is going to be there indefinitely to support seniors,” Herrick said, but ignored “a lot of evidence that it's probably not sustainable.”

Other health issues touched upon in the address include the need for precision medical treatments, and a renewed “moonshot” approach to cancer research helmed by Vice President Joe Biden. The speech also lacked a mention of Medicaid, Herrick noted.

“My knee jerk reaction was that of the things that the president did mention, a lot of those were really farther off in the average American's life than the cost of healthcare,” Herrick said.

Much of the speech highlighted the United States' growing economy and jobs market, and the possibility of Americans needing to “retool and retrain” after a job loss. One provider group said that comment should speak directly to long-term healthcare.

“President Obama talked about helping retrain people who have lost their jobs in an industry that's ready to hire them. We are that industry,” LeadingAge said in a statement to McKnight's. “There are many available jobs in the nonprofit aging services sector for compassionate, hardworking individuals.”

Click here to read a full transcript of the State of the Union.