Health care and COVID-19 top voter concerns as 2020 election begins
Health concerns, especially those involving COVID-19, top the list of issues weighing on 2020 voters. (Photo: iStock.)

Health care and COVID-19 top voter concerns as 2020 election begins

Will Congress eliminate surprise medical bills? Who will be the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine? USC Dornsife experts examine pressing health issues amid the 2020 election. [3¼ min read]
ByJenesse Miller

With or without the COVID-19 pandemic, health care was destined to be a top voter issue for the 2020 presidential election.

Earlier in the 2020 primary elections, much of the focus was on whether the United States should transition to a “Medicare for All” program that would guarantee coverage for everyone. Now, with coronavirus cases on the rise, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are continuing to debate health care access and affordability ahead of the general election, with the coronavirus crisis often used to illustrate the failings and successes of U.S. health care.

Some of the most pressing topics for voters include pandemic-related loss of health insurance, how quickly there will be viable COVID-19 vaccines and how they will be distributed, and the potential for the Supreme Court to invalidate the Affordable Care Act.

Polls show health care is a top election issue

“Health care is on the short list of top issues for all voters in this election and is not a partisan concern. Independents, low-income voters and voters of color are all more likely than others to say they are basing their vote on the issue of health care,” said Jill Darling, survey director for the USC Dornsife Daybreak Poll, which is conducted by the Center for Economic and Social Research (CESR) at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Darling said many in these groups have taken the hardest economic hit from the pandemic. In a COVID-19 tracking survey conducted by CESR, low-income and non-white participants reported losing jobs at a higher rate than whites. Those with lower household incomes are three times as likely as people who are more affluent to say they don’t have any type of health insurance at this time.

Bob Shrum, the director of the USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future and a former political strategist and consultant, said COVID-19 is a dominant concern for Americans “and becoming more so every day as cases rise.”

“What we have here is a perfect political storm that feeds the potential for a blue wave in November,” he said. “This includes the handling of the virus itself; fears about the loss both of protections for preexisting conditions and health coverage in general — which powered Democratic victory in the midterms; and the adroit way in which the Democrats have positioned a Supreme Court nomination that the GOP thought might help the party rebound as a clear and present danger to the Affordable Care Act, which the court will rule on this term.”

Darling added that, according to the Daybreak Poll, voters who say health care is their top priority favor Biden over Trump by 16 percentage points as the candidate who they trust to handle the issue.

Who should get the first COVID-19 vaccines?

“Once safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are available, tough choices will need to be made about who gets the first shots,” said Dana Goldman, Distinguished Professor of Public Policy, Economics, and Pharmacy. “After taking care of essential workers, vaccinations should be given to the biggest transmitters of the virus — mostly the young — and only then to the most vulnerable.”

Goldman, who holds the Leonard D. Schaeffer Director’s Chair at the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, said an important lesson from prior pandemics is that prioritizing vaccinating people who are most likely to be asymptomatic spreaders can prevent large numbers of infections.

“Very few of the COVID-19 ‘superspreaders’ are elderly,” he explained. “It is the younger people who have a much greater propensity to resume social lives at schools and in other venues. Optimally, older people will drive down deaths by staying home in large numbers, and younger people will drive down infections by getting vaccinated in even larger numbers. It all works if the vaccine is effective and enough people take it.”

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