There’s no debate that there was no debate, during the three presidential debates, about…health. During four and a half hours of televised exchanges this year, neither candidate addressed anything substantive about public health, either nationally or globally.
Review the transcripts (links below) and you will not find any mention of AIDS, TB, malaria, Zika, vaccines, flu, heart disease, opiate and other addictions, pneumonia, stroke, COPD, virus, infection, etc. No mention of CDC, FDA, NIH, WHO, Doctors Without Borders, Gavi, Global Fund, UNICEF, etc. Not one word.
To be fair, there was a reference to “stamina” in the first debate and two questions about health insurance in the second and third debate, and a passing reference to prescription drugs in the third. The third debate also addressed Roe v. Wade and partial-birth abortions.
And to be sure, the debates did touch on other matters of serious concern, including nuclear weapons, terrorism, climate change, economic growth, trade, taxation, and infrastructure.
But by not focusing on health, by not touching on health in a serious way, the debates are overlooking a fundamental and foundational component of the quality of human life. Children who are ill do not learn in school and do not thrive. Adults who are ill cannot provide for their families or contribute to their communities. Infants who are ill may simply not survive. Once removed from the immediate threat of death in a conflict state, it is health more than anything else that describes the arc of someone’s life, that defines the scope of one’s possibilities. Good health is certainly no guarantee, but it can most decidedly open a path to accomplishment and fulfillment.
Of course, there has been nothing normal about this year’s race. So how does this year compare to previous races?
Obama – Romney
During their three debates there was mention of Medicare, Medicaid, women’s health care, mammograms, cervical cancer, and contraceptive care.
Obama – McCain
Health care system, Medicare, PTSD, health insurance, walk-in clinics, community health centers, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Roe v. Wade, partial-birth abortion, late-term abortion.
Bush – Kerry
FDA, pharmaceuticals, generic drugs, Medicare, Medicaid, prescription drugs, health care system, Patients’ Bill of Rights, adult and embryonic stem cells, Parkinson’s, diabetes, spinal cord injury, NIH, AIDS, flu vaccine, CDC, Roe v. Wade, partial-birth abortion.
Bush – Gore
Medicare, prescription drugs, FDA, RU-486, partial-birth abortion, Roe v. Wade, health care, community health centers, CHIP, Patients’ Bill of Rights.
At least looking at these four recent races, it seems clear that far more of those debates were concerned with health issues than this year’s round. And if you read the transcripts or watch the videos (http://www.debates.org/index.php?page=voter-education), you can see that these weren’t just mentions in passing but extended discussions.
Why health seemed on the back burner this year is difficult to say, though passage of the Affordable Care Act may have played a role. Regardless, how we bring global health back into the political discussion in the US is something we need to start debating right now.