Tuesday night’s State of the Union address was all that I expected – Washington pageantry, political showmanship, and a view into the White House’s priorities for the year ahead.
Not surprisingly, the president noted the recent repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, calling it the “core of the disastrous Obamacare.” However, ACA wasn’t the primary focus of the president’s comments related to health and welfare; he covered four other key topics that could affect employee benefits administration – ones that HR/benefits pros should keep on their 2018 legislative “watch list:”
- Prescription drugs. President Trump said that within the last year, the Food and Drug Administration has “approved more new and generic drugs and medical devices than ever before in our country's history.” Following his address, many news organizations have reported the FDA is on pace to potentially break this record in 2018.
Pro takeaway: While increased generic drug availability will likely be seen as good news, the evolving market may create some plan design/formulary considerations for prescription drug plans.
- Experimental medical treatments. The president called on Congress to permit terminally ill patients access to experimental treatment options, saying Americans should not have to travel abroad in search of a possible cure.
Pro takeaway: How, and even if, such a change could affect health plans is a complex topic that could vary depending on how the government would opt to address this.
- Drug cost disparities. Calling the medication cost inequity between the United States and other countries “very, very unfair,” President Trump said he’s directed his administration to “make fixing the injustice of high drug prices one of my top priorities for the year,” and promised that “prices will come down substantially.”
Pro takeaway: This is a complex issue; while health plans would welcome substantially lower medication costs, how the administration intends to achieve this goal will likely dictate how it affects the final plan costs.
- Paid family leave. The president signaled support for a national paid family leave program.
Pro takeaway: There is currently no legislation before Congress on this issue – nor any of the issues above. Until and unless there is specific legislation to consider, employers would do well to maintain their current benefits and communication strategies toward paid family leave for employees and/or the other benefits-related topics the president addressed in his State of the Union remarks.
While the State of the Union is never a speech where Americans can expect to hear detailed plans for how goals will be achieved – it can be useful to get a sense of the administration’s priorities and focus in the coming year. Here at Businessolver, we will be watching these developments with great interest and we will be communicating to our clients and teams as issues develop and plans become more tangible.
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