Top 5 Health Care Takeaways From the 2020 General Election

November 4, 2020
Gianna Melillo

Gianna is an assistant editor of The American Journal of Managed Care® (AJMC®). She has been working on AJMC® since 2019 and has a BA in philosophy and journalism & professional writing from The College of New Jersey.

Although a winner has yet to be declared in the 2020 presidential race, several ballot measures and state level races yielded results with major implications in the health care field. Below is a list of the most influential health care–related outcomes of the 2020 elections.

As US hospitalizations for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) hit 50,000—a 3-month high—Americans at the ballot box made it clear their votes for president came down to either curbing the pandemic or reopening the economy.

Although a winner has yet to be declared in the 2020 presidential race, several ballot measures and state level races yielded results with major implications in the health care field. Below is a list of the most influential health care–related outcomes of the 2020 elections.

1. Colorado and Louisiana Adopt Opposing Stances on Abortion

Over 60% of Louisiana voters approved an amendment proposing adding language to the state’s constitution ensuring it does not protect abortion as a right, NPR reports. The language also mandates abortion is not to be funded except in cases of life endangerment. Specifically, a vote for Amendment 1 added the sentence to the Louisiana Declaration of Rights: “To protect human life, nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion."

In Colorado, voters rejected Proposition 115, which aimed to outlaw abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy with exceptions for life-threatening situations. Current Colorado law does not restrict abortion after a certain point in a pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists also opposed the proposition, claiming it would interfere with the doctor-patient relationship and complicate medical decisions. In the past 12 years, Colorado voters have rejected ballot initiatives limiting abortion 3 times.

2. Oregon Decriminalizes Possession of Small Amounts of Drugs

Oregon became the first state to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of street drugs including cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin, The Associated Press reports. The new drug initiative will permit individuals arrested with small amounts of drugs to avoid going to trial and possible jail time. Instead, individuals will pay a $100 fine and attend an addiction recovery program, while centers will be funded by revenue gained from sales of recreational marijuana. Partial returns showed the measure passing 59% to 41%.

Voters in Oregon also approved an initiative to legalize therapeutic use of psychedelic mushrooms, making it the first state to legalize such a measure. Psilocybin has been decriminalized by multiple cities in the state, and the measure creates a 2-year period during which regulatory details will be finalized. The drug could be used to help those struggling with depression, anxiety, or addiction.

3. CA Voters Lean Toward Refunding Stem Cell Agency

As of 12 PM on November 4, voters in the state of California are leaning toward refunding the state’s first-of-its-kind stem cell research program, according to The Desert Sun. On Tuesday night, with 11 million votes counted, approval for the proposition was up 51.2% to 48.8%. However, millions more votes still need to be counted.

Proposition 14 would allow for an infusion of $5.5 billion of borrowed money from a bond sale into the program. The funding would effectively bail out the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, created by a similar $3 billion bond measure in 2014. Supporters of the measure say the funding is crucial to continue the state’s dozens of clinical trials on the use of stem cells in cancer, Alzheimer disease, and Parkinson disease. Opponents argue California cannot afford to take on the debt during the COVID-19 economic crisis.

4. Thom Tillis Leads North Carolina Senate Election

With 94% of votes counted, Republican Senator Thom Tillis holds a narrow lead over Democratic rival Cal Cunningham, as of 12 PM November 4. Latest numbers show Tillis holding 48.7% of North Carolina votes compared with Cunningham’s 46.9%. Whether Tillis succeeds could determine if Republicans keep the senate majority.

Tillis is also one of the pharmaceutical industry’s strongest allies in congress as the senator is among the leading recipients of drug industry political action committee contributions, STAT News reports. In addition, Tillis has penned legislation strengthening intellectual property protections for US corporations, which may aid drug makers in preserving exclusivity on new drugs. Should Tillis lose, the pharmaceutical industry would lose a key ally, potentially impacting the future of drug pricing legislation and negotiation.

5. Doctors Head to Congress

Kansas’ Republican Representative Roger Marshall beat his Democratic opponent Barbara Bollier, who, if she were elected, would have become the first female MD elected to the Senate, according to STAT News. However, Marshall himself is an OB-GYN who made health care central to his campaign and volunteered at Kansas hospitals treating patients with COVID-19. A deeply conservative candidate, Marshall has in the past generated controversy for his advocacy of physician-owned hospitals.

Ronny Jackson, a Republican and former White House physician also won a Texas congressional seat, representing one of the most conservative districts in the country. Jackson began his work in the White House under President George W. Bush and served as President Barack Obama’s physician. Although President Donald Trump nominated Jackson to be his second Veterans Affairs secretary, Jackson withdrew from consideration due to allegations he drank on the job, overprescribed medication, and created a hostile work environment, The Hill reports.