Vital Signs Blog

Blog: Trump trumps GOP rivals on healthcare empathy as Iowans caucus

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The word empathy doesn't usually come to mind when people think about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. But compared to his GOP rivals Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush, Trump came off looking like Mother Teresa over the weekend, just before Iowa voters participate in presidential selection caucuses Monday night.

On Saturday, an Iowa voter named Mark Valde attending a Cruz campaign event in the small town of Hubbard told a story about how his brother-in-law Mark was only able to afford health insurance after the Affordable Care Act took effect, but by then his cancer had advanced too far and he died last year. “Mark never had healthcare until Obamacare,” Valde said. “What are you going to replace it with?”

Cruz launched into the standard Republican critique of the ACA—that it supposedly has caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs and health insurance. Valde persisted. “My question is, what are you going to replace it with?”

“Sir, I promise you, I will answer your question,” Cruz replied. “I'm laying out first all of the problems.” Then the Texas senator repeated his standard healthcare solution of expanding health savings accounts and allowing insurers to sell products across state lines.

The exchange recalled a similar moment in Texas Gov. George W. Bush's presidential campaign in 2000 when a Florida woman wanted to know what Bush would do to help her son, who she said had a chronic, life-threatening condition and whose insurance did not fully cover his needs. Bush touted health savings accounts, then acknowledged that he had no specific remedy for his situation. “I'm sorry, I wish I could wave a wand,” he told her.

George's brother Jeb didn't even go that far. Over the weekend, the former Florida governor bragged about his role in blocking the expansion of coverage, according to Politico Pulse. Asked in a New Hampshire TV interview how he compared himself to GOP presidential candidates Gov. John Kasich and Gov. Chris Christie, Bush said “when they were expanding Medicaid, I fought … to not expand Medicaid there, and most people credit my involvement as one reason why (Florida) didn't.”

An estimated 1 million low-income Florida adults would be eligible for insurance if the state expanded Medicaid under the ACA.

Trump went far beyond wishing he could wave a wand, though he offered no concrete proposal. When asked on Sunday how his healthcare proposal differs from the ACA, Trump said “I want people taken care of,” adding that Cruz has “no heart.” While strongly opposing Obamacare and insisting he does not want a single-payer system, he said he would “work something out” on healthcare after abolishing the ACA. “We're going to work with our hospitals. We're going to work with our doctors. We've got to do something … I have a heart.”

“If somebody has no money and they're lying in the middle of the street and they're dying, I'm going to take care of that person,” Trump continued. “And if this means I lose an election, that's fine, because, frankly, we have to take care of the people in our country.”

It remains to be seen if the healthcare rhetoric from Trump and the other Republican candidates becomes more concrete when the dust settles from the Iowa caucuses this week.


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