Super Tuesday: Where Do the Candidates Stand on Breast Cancer?

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • So, it’s finally arrived: Super Tuesday, “the first almost-national primary,” a day when millions of Americans in 24 states will vote for their favorite Presidential candidates. Voters in such delegate-rich states as California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Illinois will be casting ballots, and by the end of the day, we may have a pretty clear picture of who the 2008 Democratic and Republican Presidential candidates will be. Finally. After nearly 2 years of campaigning. Whew!

    Still, after all of those ads, all the magazine articles and newspaper editorials and televised debates, do you know which candidates support funding for breast cancer research most strongly? Which can be counted on to restore the budgets of the National Cancer Institute and National Institutes of Health, this country’s chief scientific research centers, both of which have seen their funding severely slashed during the 8 years of the current administration? And which have jumped on the cancer bandwagon only lately, seemingly for the sake of political expediency?
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    I spent an evening plowing through Web sites, both those of the candidates themselves, and others (including Healthcare ’08, right on this site) that have devoted time and energy to ferreting out candidates’ views on health care. The subject is complex, and the landscape immense; but there are several key federal initiatives concerning breast cancer where a candidate’s support would be a plus, in my book:

    •The Department of Defense (DOD) Peer-Reviewed Breast Cancer Research Program, which works to fight breast cancer by establishing a partnership between the federal government, the scientific community, and patient advocacy groups;

    •The Medicaid Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program Reauthorization Act of 2007 (renewable yearly), which last year provided more than 700,000 free screenings for breast and cervical cancer for low-income and uninsured women;

    •The Breast Cancer Environmental Research Act, which investigates crucial links between environmental pollutants and breast cancer.

    The following is my summary of where the leading five Presidential candidates stand on health care in general and on cancer, particularly breast cancer. I’ve also included my feeling about each of them, just an intuitive assessment after reading reams of material. Caveat emptor: I’m no political analyst, simply an educated, intelligent American woman interested in making a smart choice at the polls. And certainly breast cancer isn’t my entire focus when deciding on a candidate; but clearly it’s important to me. I feel personally affronted by candidates who seemingly could care less about cancer research funding. And speaking of personal, I believe that a candidate’s close encounter with cancer would naturally make him or her at least slightly more attuned to its significance in the lives of those of us who have it. So if I found reference to it, I’ve included any personal connection with cancer that any candidates have experienced. I’ve also given each candidate a grade based on how serious I feel they are about funding cancer research and patient/survivor support.

  • That said, let’s take a look at the leading Republicans, in alphabetical order.

    Mike Huckabee
    Grade: B

    First off, Mike Huckabee gains huge points, in my eyes, for being the only remaining Republican candidate to have participated in the Livestrong Presidential Cancer Forum last fall. At that forum, he noted that he’d enacted legislation favorable to cancer prevention and research while governor of Arkansas, including a statewide ban on indoor smoking; and elimination of the co-pays and deductibles for state employees receiving colonoscopies, mammograms, and prostate exams. Huckabee, who within the past several years has lost 110 pounds, is a strong advocate of cancer prevention as the result of a healthy lifestyle. His health-care initiatives, in general, focus on prevention. As President, he says he’d act to ban smoking in all work places.
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    Huckabee has gone on record as supporting the DOD Peer-Reviewed Breast Cancer Research Program; The Medicaid Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program Reauthorization  Act of 2007; and the Breast Cancer Environmental Research Act.

    He also took the time to respond to a series of thoughtful questions from the National Breast Cancer Coalition, whose president, Fran Visco, is a featured expert on this site. Both of the top Democratic candidates, but neither of the remaining serious Republican contenders responded to the NBCC questions.

    Personal cancer connection: Huckabee’s wife successfully survived a tumor on her spine 32 years ago; she and Mike have three children, despite the doctors’ assertion that radiation would make her infertile. “I have a passion for the reality of what cancer does to people,” he noted at the Livestrong forum. In addition to his wife being a survivor, Huckabee’s father died of cancer 3 1/2 years before he became governor of Arkansas.

    Bottom line: To me, his stand on cancer research and prevention is by far the strongest of any of the Republican candidates.

    John McCain
    Grade: D

    Sen. McCain chose not to participate in the Livestrong Presidential Cancer Forum. He also declined to answer questions from the National Breast Cancer Coalition.

    In general, McCain believes personal responsibility is the key to controlling chronic diseases like cancer. He recommends education around nutrition and fitness, and believes in smoking cessation programs. He won’t commit to adequate funding for cancer research, and in 2000 was accused of not supporting breast cancer research by voting against a package of funding that included initiatives for breast cancer. McCain claimed the funding package hadn’t been examined thoroughly enough.

    Most of McCain’s health-policy statements center on personal responsibility, and the individual taking more control of his or her own health. As stated on his Web site, McCain also believes that “insurance reforms should increase the variety and affordability of insurance coverage available to American families by fostering competition and innovation.” In other words, deregulate the insurance industry and get the companies competing with one another to offer lower rates. Much of what I’ve read about McCain and health care focuses on controlling costs, rather than funding research.

  • McCain has failed to express support for the DOD Peer-Reviewed Breast Cancer Research Program; the Medicaid Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program Reauthorization Act of 2007; and the Breast Cancer Environmental Research Act.

    Personal cancer connection: McCain is a two-time survivor of malignant melanoma.

    Bottom line: For a fellow who’s had cancer, he seems surprisingly disengaged from it and disinterested in spending taxpayer dollars for its prevention or cure.

    Mitt Romney
    Grade: C

    Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney seems to have very little to say about disease prevention or management in general, let alone cancer. In fact, Romney seems to have much less to say about health care than any of his fellow candidates. The health-care section of his Web site leads with “Health care costs are spiraling out of control,” and that about wraps up Romney’s chief interest in health care: its cost.
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    As governor, Romney helped push through a plan to bring mandatory universal health-care coverage to Massachusetts. The plan focuses on providing every Massachusetts resident with health insurance, and at the same time lowering the overall cost of health care. The program, according to Romney, centers around “personal responsibility.’

    Romney declined to answer questions from the NBCC. And he didn’t attend the Livestrong Presidential Cancer Forum.

    Romney has failed to express support for the DOD Peer-Reviewed Breast Cancer Research Program; the Medicaid Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program Reauthorization Act of 2007; and the Breast Cancer Environmental Research Act.

    That said, Romney was the only remaining candidate on either side to personally attend the 10th annual Komen Mission Conference Founder’s Forum in August, where he was interviewed by Komen founder Nancy Brinker. When prompted, Romney noted that breast cancer is “getting less than its fair shake” of funding.

    Romney added that both private and public money are needed for research, and that other keys are cancer prevention and detection, both of which would improve nationally if more people could afford routine health care, according to an AP news account of the event.

    "For that to happen, in my view, we have to have everybody insured," he said. "I will fight to get every person in this country health insurance."

    “I am one of those who will recognize as you do that this is a tragic disease,” Romney said in his interview with Brinker. “That it is preventable. That's part of the tragedy. That we can dramatically reduce the death rate from breast cancer if we were to do the things that we're describing and I will fight my darndest to get ’em done.”

    Personal cancer connection: Nothing close that I could find. Though he’s no stranger to serious health issues, as his wife, Ann, has multiple sclerosis.

    Bottom line: He’s a businessman, not a public servant, and makes no bones about it. If cancer prevention and cure can’t somehow be turned into a profitable business equation, then they’re lower priorities.

  • Now let’s take a look at the two major Democratic candidates:

    Hillary Clinton
    Grade: A

    Sen. Clinton was a strong presence at the Livestrong Presidential Cancer Forum, where she said, in part, “We have to have a broad investment in health care research and science. We have to end the war that’s been waged against science by this administration, led by the President of the United States. He’s been leading an assault on science and research. His two priorities have been the war in Iraq, and tax cuts for the wealthy, while cutting funds to the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute… The current administration has literally called a halt to the war on cancer… We have a lot of cleaning up to do when we finally say goodbye to the Bush-Cheney administration.”
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    Clinton has vowed that as President she would put measures in place to increase the NIH and NCI budgets by 50% within 5 years, and to double those budgets within 10 years, as well as ensure that every American lives within the service area of an NCI Cancer Center. She has also pledged to end discrimination by the insurance companies against those who have a genetic predisposition to cancer; and require insurers (including Medicare) to pay 100% of the costs (no co-pays) for colorectal screening, mammograms, and prostate exams.  

    Clinton answered the questions posed by the NBCC. She has strongly supported the DOD Peer-Reviewed Breast Cancer Research Program; the Medicaid Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program Reauthorization Act of 2007; and the Breast Cancer Environmental Research Act, of which she was an original co-sponsor.

    Personal cancer connection: Sen. Clinton lost her mother-in-law, President Bill Clinton’s mother, Virginia Kelley, to breast cancer in 1994.

    Bottom line: Sen. Clinton would be a strong advocate for increased funding of breast cancer research and treatment.

    Barack Obama
    Grade: A

    Obama didn’t participate in the Livestrong Presidential Cancer Forum. But he’s managed to get his strong health care message out in other ways, including his signing of the Congressional Cancer Promise in 2006. This “manifesto” from the Cancer Action Network, sister organization to the American Cancer Society, calls for a number of public policy initiatives with an overall goal of “eliminating suffering and death due to cancer by the year 2015.”  The Promise notes that “While the 2015 goal is not one that can be reached with certainty… our past commitment to cancer research and programs has poised us to greatly accelerate progress toward a time when people live with cancer rather than die from it.” Surprisingly, Sen. Clinton failed to sign the Promise.

    According to information from Research!America, a not-for-profit public health education and advocacy alliance (via a blog by Jim Waldenfels on mycancerplace.org), Obama strongly supports “managing chronic illnesses with public and private partnerships, grants to organizations promoting healthy lifestyles, improved school menus and expanded workplace wellness programs. He would require all providers participating in his new public coverage plan to provide chronic disease management programs.” These would include Medicare, Medicaid, and his proposed public health plan, all of which would be required to fully fund mammograms and other cancer screenings.

  • Obama has strongly supported the DOD Peer-Reviewed Breast Cancer Research Program; the Medicaid Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program Reauthorization Act of 2007; and the Breast Cancer Environmental Research Act, of which he is currently a co-sponsor.  
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    In answering questions from the NBCC, Obama’s staff writes, “As President, Obama will make ending cancer the top priority it needs to be by increasing funding for the NIH, NCI, and other medical research grants. The fight against cancer is a critically important issue in the lives of millions of Americans. It needs to be a top priority for our government, and it will be under an Obama administration.”

    Personal cancer connection: Obama’s mother died at age 53 of ovarian cancer.

    Bottom line: Sen. Obama is an energetic supporter of funding for cancer research and prevention.


     
     
Published On: February 02, 2008