It will escape no one's attention that 2006 is an election year. Many hopeful Democrats are looking at the rough 2005 "enjoyed" by the Bush administration and have decided that 2006 is shaping up to be the reverse of 1994 all over again. While it's hard to imagine the news for Republicans staying as bad as it's been, there are at least three areas where healthcare will play into politics this year. The most obvious is the roll out of Medicare Part D's drug coverage, about which there has been much controversy. It may go well, but angry seniors are always a political force. As they are faced with the prospect of signing up by May or seeing premiums increase, the pressure will increase.
The early news also suggests that employees who are "empowered" into high-deductible health plans are not that happy, and the number being moved into these plans will increase fast in 2006. Meanwhile, employers (led by GM) are getting increasingly vocal about looking for government help to solve the healthcare cost crisis. Finally, middle-class insecurity about health insurance is also a potent political force.
It's hard to say how much these factors will influence this coming election, but poll after poll shows Democrats doing better on healthcare issues. Healthcare organizations may wake up in early November to find that health policy is no longer more of the same. They must start planning for that possibility.