Question 14: Science and Healthcare

Science Debate 2008 saved the best for last. Or at least they saved the most expensive for last. According to a 2007 study by Medicare and Medicaid, Americans spent almost $2.26 trillion on healthcare in 2007, or more per capita than any other nation on Earth. Similarly, spending on healthcare-related research dwarfs spending on all other scientific endeavors.

In their Science Debate answers, Senators McCain and Obama astutely link medical research to advances in medicine before going on to talk about what they see as two important aspects of healthcare. Obama focuses his answer on affordability while McCain concentrates on the role information technology will play in the future of medicine.

While neither candidate has a history of votes that relate to either of those topics, according to Joseph Antos, the Wilson H. Taylor Scholar in Health Care and Retirement Policy at the conservative think-tank the American Enterprise Institute, they each have a history of behind the scenes work on both subjects.

Specifically, the two technology and healthcare issues that the candidates worked on were changing the FDA regulation of generic versions of large molecule drugs and the updating of the IT system for the Veterans Health Administration.

Generic drugs go a long way towards making healthcare affordable, but the FDA does not streamline the approval of large molecule generics, like it does with small molecule drugs, because of the greater variability in effect with the larger, more complex drugs. As a result, it is less profitable to develop generic, affordable, large molecule drugs.

Antos noted that a number of trade publications have mentioned both Obama and McCain advocating for a change in FDA guidelines that would allow the expedited approval of generic large molecule drugs.

For healthcare IT, Anthos said that, “the track record here is not strong for anybody, but they have both talked about bringing the computer to the bedside.” Specifically, this involves digitizing the health information of veterans to allow for easier transfer of medical records. Since the Veterans Health Administration often acts as a bellwether for the rest of the healthcare industry, facilitating change in the VA could instigate similar changes throughout the medical establishment.

And that ends’s analysis of the candidates’ Science Debate 2008 answers. The final score is two contradictions for Obama and four for McCain. Obama didn’t touch on his support of global warming causing ethanol, McCain didn’t invent Wi-Fi, support science education as much as said, or vote for bird flu legislation, and neither candidate’s position on stem cells resembles their voting record. So, we conclude this series, but be sure to keep an eye on for continued Election 2008 coverage as well as all the past PoliSci columns.