There's liable to be less reform and more politics at the State of the Union

Been there, done that?

A year ago, President Barack Obama highlighted his administration's 2010 landmark health reform law when he delivered his annual State of the Union Address. That was just days after the newly sworn-in 112th Congress voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and Obama couldn't ignore it. “Now, I've heard rumors that a few of you have some concerns about the new healthcare law,” Obama quipped. “So let me be the first to say that anything can be improved,” he said, adding later that medical liability reform is one area on which both sides can agree.

But that was then, and tonight's speech falls during an election year—which is why House Republicans are bracing for a stump speech to draw in voters.

“I think the president has telegraphed that it will primarily be a campaign speech in a thin veneer of him fighting for the middle-class,” Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), a physician, told Modern Healthcare on Monday.

Price, who recently led a session on healthcare at the House GOP retreat in Baltimore, said he suspects there will be little mention of healthcare in the president's speech—even though, as he noted, the Medicare physician payment issue is “staring us in the face. It's something that has to be fixed. We get no leadership from the White House.” Price also said a tax on medical devices is choking innovation in American healthcare, and that he wonders if the president will give what he called “another wink and a nod” to tort reform. “Obviously it's not a priority because we haven't heard about it,” he said, referring to the president's comments a year ago. “It wastes hundreds of billions of dollars with the practice of defensive medicine.”

Another Georgia Republican, Rep. Phil Gingrey, echoed that sentiment. “Nothing's happened,” he said. “Absolutely nothing.” Gingrey, a physician who introduced medical liability legislation in the lower chamber, said he applauded when Obama mentioned tort reform last year.

While Gingrey and Price said they don't think the speech will focus on healthcare, some are preparing for the possibility. The conservative Heritage Foundation announced it will have analysts ready for instant analysis and the think tank will host a panel discussion—“Beyond the Individual Mandate: Why Obamacare Must be Repealed”—this Thursday. And House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) issued a news release Tuesday morning that focused on a compilation of Gallup survey results in 2011. The results showed that, on average, more than 17% of people surveyed said they were uninsured in 2011—up from 14.8% in 2008, two years before the law passed.

Meanwhile, with the Supreme Court scheduled to examine the Affordable Care Act case later this year, it seems the president would have to acknowledge healthcare in some form tonight.

“There are two big issues there that could get struck down by the Supreme Court,” Gingrey said, referring to the individual mandate and Medicaid expansion provisions in the law. “If so, then Obamacare is absolutely insolvent.”

Follow Jessica Zigmond on Twitter @ MHJZigmond.



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