Craig Stoltz is a web consultant working in the health
2.0 space. He has previously served as health editor for the Washington Post and editorial director of Revolution Health. He blogs at Web 2.0 … Oh really? I recently had a hand in a project, called the Healthcare08
, which seeks to find meaningful
distinctions among the presidential
candidates’ healthcare policies. This was tougher than it sounds.
This being the primary season, each party’s contenders are pretty
much sticking with the approved script. The Democrats are trying to outbid each
other for cradle-to-grave healthcare for all humans treading on U.S. soil. The
Republicans are quietly uttering free-market shibboleths to avoid alienating
their big contributors until the fall, when they’ll probably have to promise to
do something or other.
The PoliGraph project plotted each candidate’s stances on
six healthcare issues on big graphics. We plotted their positions along two
axes: from left (i.e., federalphilic) to right (federalphobic), and from most
important to least important (to the candidate, not us).
By parsing the data carefully, we were able to find some
daylight between candidates, even within each party’s tight ideological clusters.
For instance, for all the fuss over comparing Clinton’s and
Edwards’s personal “mandates” that
people have insurance, when we dug into her plan we found her solutions more inclusive
of market forces than either Edwards’ or Obama’s. (This gets wonkish, but Hillary
gives small businesses incentives to
offer private insurance coverage to employees; Edwards and Obama depend more on mandates and
expanding public programs to fill that gap. Hey, it’s something.)
But the most interesting thing that showed up when we got
done plotting everybody jumped out in plain red and blue. Several Republicans
held positions in the blue zone on some healthcare issues.
John McCain is code blue drug prices, his positions
essentially no different from the Edwards/Clinton/Obama scrum: Let Medicare
bargain for drug prices, permit drug imports from other countries and give
federal support to develop generic drugs.
Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani are tap-dancing quietly in the
blue zone on stem cells. Romney says it’s okay to use stem cells left over from
IVF treatments for medical research, but doesn’t want federal dollars to fund
it. Giuliani generally supports the use of embryonic stem cell research and is
even sanguine with federal funding. But they are both keeping awfully quiet
about it. At least until the general election.
Of course, life being complicated and politics being
political, some folks were really hard to pin down on a simple left-to-right
axis. Ron Paul is against federal funding for stem cell research but apparently
has no objections to the practice itself. Is that “left” or “right”? (As is
often the case with libertarians, maybe it’s neither and both and har-de-har!)
And Democrat Mike Gravel’s views are, how you say, all over
the graph. Is his a-health-insurance-voucher-in-every-pot plan a pinky ploy to
go Canadian? Or is it a way to pump federal dollars directly into the pockets
of private insurers, and stealthily destroy Medicare and Medicaid?
Luckily, since it’s Gravel’s idea, we’re very unlikely to
We’ve decided to continue the PoliGraph project to plot the
changes in the candidates’ views on healthcare issues all the way through
November, when of course there will be only two candidates, (give or take a
What do you bet they’ll wind up nearly on top of each other
in the middle of the graph?