Health Care Election News for the Week of Jan. 11, 2008
Six Republican presidential candidates on Saturday at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., participated in a debate hosted by ABC News and Facebook during which they addressed health care and other issues, the Los Angeles Times reports.
During the debate, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) criticized the pharmaceutical industry. He said, "Why shouldn't we be able to reimport drugs from Canada? It's because of the power of the pharmaceutical companies." McCain added, "We should have pharmaceutical companies competing to take care of our Medicare and Medicaid patients."
In response, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said, "Don't turn the pharmaceuticals into the big, bad guys."
McCain said, "Well, they are."
"No," Romney said, adding, "Actually they're trying to create products to make us well and make us better, and they're doing the work of the free market. And are there excesses? I'm sure there are, and we should go after excesses. But they're an important industry to this country" (Decker/Finnegan, Los Angeles Times, 1/6).
Former Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn.) criticized Romney for his enactment of a Massachusetts health insurance law that requires all state residents to obtain coverage. Romney said that he supports certain mandates, to which Thompson responded, "The ones you come up with."
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) also participated in the debate (AP/St. Petersburg Times).
After the Republican debate, four Democratic candidates participated in a debate on the same stage during which they addressed health care and other issues, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports (Herman/Shepard, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/6).
In a discussion of their records on health care, former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) discussed his efforts to pass a patients' rights bill, and Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) cited his efforts to reduce the influence of lobbyists on legislation related to health care and other issues.
In response, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) said that the patients' rights bill never became law and that Jim Demers, the co-chair of the Obama campaign in New Hampshire, works as a lobbyist for pharmaceutical companies (Kornblut/Balz, Washington Post, 1/6).
Obama communications director Robert Gibbs said Demers is a state lobbyist with no involvement in federal legislation. He said that in the campaigns ban on taking money from lobbyists, it distinguishes between state lobbyists and those who lobby on the federal level (Kuhnhenn, AP/Google.com, 1/7).
Clinton also criticized Obama because his health care proposal would not require all U.S. residents to obtain health insurance. She said, "You stop short of going the distance to making sure that we have a system that can deliver health care for everyone" (Sherman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1/6). Obama "could have a pretty good debate with himself because, four years ago, he was for single-payer health care," Clinton said, adding, "Then he moved toward a rejection of that, a more incremental approach. Then he was for universal health care. Then he proposed a health care plan that doesn't cover everybody" (Liebowitz, Concord Monitor, 1/6).
Obama said, "I have been entirely consistent in my position on health care" (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1/6). Obama said that such a mandate is not necessary because most residents who do not purchase health insurance make the decision based on cost, not a lack of desire to obtain coverage (Washington Post, 1/6). He added, "What I said ... is if I were designing a system from scratch, I would set up a single-payer system." But given the existing health care system in which so many people already receive coverage through employers, such a change would be impractical, he said (Liebowitz, Concord Monitor, 1/6).
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson also participated in the debate (Washington Post, 1/6).
ABC News video of comments from Republican candidates on health care during the debate is available online (ABC, 1/5). A transcript of the complete Republican debate also is available online (ABC.com, 1/5).
CNN video of comments from Democratic candidates on health care during the debate is available online (CNN.com, 1/6). A transcript of the complete Democratic debate also is available online (ABC.com, 1/5).
"Democrats should be celebrating" that their "three major candidates have put health insurance front and center ... with plans that are remarkably similar ... at a time when the public seems readier than ever before to embrace universal health insurance," but they have incurred "self-inflicted wounds" because of "squabbling over" whether the plans should require all U.S. residents to obtain coverage, Robert Reich, a professor of public policy at the University of California-Berkeley and a former secretary of the Department of Labor, writes in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece. Democrats "need to start building a movement in support of the big and important reforms universal health insurance requires -- and on which they happen to agree" -- to expand health insurance to all residents after January 2009, he writes (Reich, Wall Street Journal, 1/9).
Earlier on Saturday, Clinton appeared at a high school in Penacook, N.H., to discuss her health care proposal. She said, "People should stand for universal health care ... more independents and even Republicans are now understanding that it is morally and economically imperative" that the U.S. provide health insurance for all residents. In addition, Clinton said, "Who is ready to be president on Day One?" adding, "We've got 47 million uninsured Americans. We have an economy that is faltering" (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1/6).
- Edwards recently "has been bashing big health insurers" with the story of Nataline Sarkisyan -- a 17-year-old girl who died after Cigna refused to cover a life-saving liver transplant that she required -- as part of his call for health care reform, the Journal reports. Cigna initially rejected coverage for the liver transplant but later reversed the decision. However, Sarkisyan died before she could receive the transplant. Edwards said that Sarkisyan "lost her life ... because her insurance company would not pay for a liver-transplant operation." He added, "We need a president who will take" on health insurers (Fuhrman/Meckler, Wall Street Journal, 1/7).
- Edwards has used the "personal tragedy" of Sarkisyan "to boost his political campaign," and his "repeated references" to her death indicate the "obscenely cynical way he'd govern as president," Joel Zinberg, vice president of the New York County Medical Society and an associate clinical professor of surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital, writes in a New York Post opinion piece. Edwards is "dishonest and ignores important public policy concerns: Cigna didn't kill Sarkisyan, her disease did," according to Zinberg. He concludes, "We want a president who is interested in sound policy, who can clearly consider everyone's welfare free of the emotional overlay and distortion that have become Edwards' stock in trade" (Zinberg, New York Post, 1/10).
All Republican presidential candidates "talk about opening up the market for health insurance to make it function more like the market for new cars or televisions," but "McCain goes further," columnist David Leonhardt writes in the New York Times.
According to Leonhardt, McCain "also suggests changing the incentives around medical care" and "wants Medicare to pay doctors and hospitals less for procedures that don't improve health -- like unnecessary surgery -- and more for effective low-technology care." McCain "has managed to sketch out an economic platform" that "represents the very beginnings of a Republican response to middle-class anxiety," Leonhardt writes (Leonhardt, New York Times, 1/9).
On Saturday, Obama appeared at a Nashua, N.H., high school. He said, in reference to his victory in the Iowa Democratic caucus, "What we saw during this past week was the American people rising up and saying to each other that we are on the cusp of creating a new majority ... that will actually deliver on the promises of health care" (Nagourney, New York Times, 1/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.