Vice Presidential Debate Missed Chance to tell Americans about Health Research

Campaign for Cures

The Campaign for Cures Election 2016 blog features news, analysis, commentary and data about the presidential candidates and congressional races in key states on issues relevant to medical progress. Janice Lloyd, former USA Today senior editor and health reporter, manages The Campaign for Cures blog. You can reach Janice at   Follow Campaign for Cures, a national voter education initiative, on Twitter and Facebook and visit

Vice Presidential Debate Missed Chance to tell Americans about Health Research

Janice Lloyd

Will the candidates aim to find new treatments and cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s and Autism, diseases that rob millions of Americans of healthy lives and also cripple their spending power? What will they do about mental health issues impacting 40 million Americans and the growing opioid crisis? How will they deal with antibiotic resistance and emerging new viruses like Zika?

Once again, Tuesday night’s debate missed a chance to address these important questions. Zero: That’s the number of times biomedical research and innovative solutions were discussed  at the vice presidential debate between Virginia Senator Tim Kaine and Indiana Governor Mike Pence. Americans want to know the answers, according to a national public opinion survey commissioned by Research America. Many feel the candidates are not paying attention to their concerns about health. The first presidential debate also missed the boat, so let’s look at what the candidates are doing and saying about the issues.

For example, Kaine discussed Hillary Clinton’s comprehensive plan to support Americans living with mental health problems in a phone call with college students in August. One in four college students acknowledge they are dealing with mental health challenges. Under the Clinton administration, America will no longer separate mental health from physical health when it comes to access to care or quality of treatment. “We want to make sure that there are appropriate resources,” Kaine said, “innovative resources, community-based resources so that people can access help, and that the response of society is treatment rather than judgment or pretending that it doesn’t exist.”

Many Americans (82%) say mental health services including those to treat depression should be part of any basic health care plan.

Kaine has also scored high points for prevention ideas, including calling on doctors to stop prescribing opioids to curb addiction and calling Americans to exercise regularly and eat healthy foods. He also signed a statewide ban on smoking in bars and restaurants.

Most importantly, the Clinton-Kaine team has vowed to combine new funding with creative solutions to combat chronic diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s. They also plan to create a Public Health Rapid Response Fund to allow the National Institutes of Health and other agencies to fight health crises and pandemics.  Clinton thinks the United States is under-investing in research, saying “ Federal funding of basic research amounts to less than one percent of annual federal spending, yet it is an investment that pays big dividends. I believe it is essential that we strengthen our research capacity.”

Sen. Kaine helped introduce legislation making pediatric research a higher national priority.

Indiana Gov. Pence decreased spending on health, according to Kaiser Health News: “As governor, Pence signed legislation that slashed Indiana’s budget for public health programs, despite the state’s many pressing public health problems. Indiana has a high smoking rate, high obesity rate, and high infant mortality rate. The state is ranked nearly last for both federal and state public health funding. Indiana spends just $12.40 per resident on public health. West Virginia, in contrast, spends more than $220.”

When Kaine was in Congress, he voted against the Children’s Health Insurance Reauthorization Act in 2007 and 2009. As governor, he did accept a compromise on Medicaid expansion.

His running mate’s plans for spending on health have not been made public yet. When asked how he would improve Federal research and our public health system to better protect Americans, Trump said:  “We cannot simply throw money at these institutions and assume that the nation will be well served. What we ought to focus on is assessing where we need to be as a nation and then applying resources to those areas where we need the most work.”

Sunday night, Clinton and Trump will debate for the second time. We’ll be listening to see how many times biomedical research is mentioned and if they discuss how they will prioritize the nation’s health.


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Presidential Candidates Should Participate in Debate on Science

Source: A Research!America and poll of U.S. adults conducted in partnership with Zogby Analytics in September 2015.