CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa—The famed pediatric neurosurgeon said not a word in his campaign speech here Thursday about what he would do on healthcare policy if he's elected president. In contrast, the former president had a lot to say during his talk the same day in this eastern Iowa city about what his wife would do on healthcare if she's elected to the White House.
Members of both their audiences said they wanted to hear more from the candidates on healthcare as they troop through Iowa in the lead-up to the Feb. 1 Iowa presidential caucuses.
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson mentioned his medical experience only to demonstrate his capability to handle other types of tough presidential challenges, particularly fighting Islamic radicals. “Some say Carson is too nice and could never destroy the enemy,” he told an audience of about 300, including about 100 grade school students, at the Isaac Newton Christian Academy. “But I've cut people open to cut out cancer.” He compared that to “destroying people who are evil.”
Two hours later, former president Bill Clinton touted Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's proposals to expand federal support for research on Alzheimer's disease and autism and for mental healthcare and treatment of opioid addiction. And he repeatedly argued that electing his wife is crucial to protecting the Affordable Care Act, which he said has sharply reduced the number of uninsured Americans and helped slow healthcare spending growth.
The Republicans “have no clue what they'll replace the Affordable Care Act with,” Clinton said to an adoring, overflow crowd at the National Czech and Slovak Museum. “Do we need to do more work on it? Yeah. But should we scrap it? No.” He said that just before his speech, he met a Pakistani immigrant physician who implored him, “Don't let them repeal healthcare, but do something about drug costs.”
Jim Miller, a retired Cedar Rapids retailer who was in the audience at the Carson town hall event, said he's heard a number of the GOP presidential candidates speak but hasn't heard them talk at all about healthcare. He doesn't like Obamacare but believes the law needs to be replaced with a more market-oriented model that makes healthcare more affordable.
When told that several Republican candidates favor a major restructuring of Medicare, Miller said Medicare works well for him and his wife and that he'd like to hear more about the Republican proposals.
Jeff Hancock of Independence, Iowa, who attended the Bill Clinton event with his 91-year-old mother Marna, said he welcomes Hillary Clinton's proposal to provide tax credits to family caregivers. “I like the movement on the issue of family caregivers,” said Hancock, who took care of his father before he died and now takes care of his mother.
He's also concerned about protecting the Affordable Care Act, though he would rather see a national single-payer health insurance system. He's in an ACA exchange plan, and since he's not working while caring for his mother, he gets a generous premium subsidy. “It's working out really nicely,” he said.
Tim Charles, CEO of the Mercycare Service Corp., which operates Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, shrugged off the lightweight healthcare rhetoric from the barnstorming candidates, particularly the ACA repeal talk from Republicans. On the same day he was interviewed, congressional Republicans sent an ACA repeal bill to the White House for a certain veto.
Charles said he expects more substantive discussion of healthcare after the parties have chosen their presidential nominees. “We'll hear interesting conversations when the primaries are over,” he said.