WASHINGTON — Until now, health care hasn’t been a big part of Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency.
But conventions are about more than the nominee, and Republicans are likely to have something to say about issues including Obamacare, abortion, and perhaps even medical research.
Here are the five biggest things to watch in health and medicine:
Will Pence take the pressure off?
Before Trump announced his running mate, he was under pressure from anti-abortion groups to make the case he’s really on their side.
Now that Indiana Governor Mike Pence is on the ticket, there may be less riding on Trump’s speech. Pence is a well-known abortion opponent, with a lengthy track record of standing up for all the issues that matter to abortion opponents. Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said Pence “has proven himself to be a strong leader for the right to life.”
Plus, it’s a good bet that Pence will talk about the issue in his own speech, since it’s so central to his career as Indiana governor and as a congressman for 12 years before that.
That doesn’t mean Trump will be off the hook from mentioning abortion in his speech. But anti-abortion groups are already celebrating Pence’s selection as a sign that Trump “is moving in the right direction,” according to Concerned Women for America’s Penny Young Nance, one of the activists who had been looking for reasons to be more enthusiastic about Trump.
Will Republicans hit Clinton on drug prices?
Most Republicans would love to take a couple of whacks at Hillary Clinton over her plan to control rising drug prices.
To mainstream Republicans, her plan — which includes letting Medicare negotiate drug prices and importing cheaper medications from other countries — is a big-government nightmare. As former Republican presidential candidate-turned-Trump-supporter Chris Christie put it in an October debate, “We don’t need Hillary Clinton’s price controls.”
There’s just one problem: Trump wants to do the same things. He talked several times on the campaign trail about how negotiating drug prices could save $300 billion (more than Medicare spends on its entire prescription drug program), and his website says he wants to let people import low-cost drugs from other countries.
That would seem to remove a powerful talking point from the GOP script, as well as an opportunity to talk about more market-oriented reforms preferred by many Republicans, like approving more generic drugs to increase competition and provide cheaper alternatives.
So the way Trump and the other convention speakers handle the drug prices issue could be significant. They could stay away from it entirely, or just attack other parts of Clinton’s drug prices plan. But if they criticize the entire plan — and Trump doesn’t repeat his own calls to negotiate with the pharmaceutical industry — they could set off a new round of questions about whether Trump is changing his approach.
Who likes Paul Ryan’s Obamacare repeal plan?
Now that House Speaker Paul Ryan has put out the Obamacare replacement plan that Republicans have been promising for years, the convention will send an important signal about whether the entire GOP is united behind it — and whether Trump will support it if he wins.
Ryan’s 37-page plan is more of a detailed blueprint than fully developed legislation, and it’s mostly a collection of ideas other Republicans have proposed in the past, like tax credits to help people buy health coverage and letting them buy health insurance plans from other states.
Still, it offers far more detail about how to replace Obamacare than Trump has suggested on his website or in his campaign speeches. And Ryan will have a chance to make his own sales pitch for the plan when he addresses the convention this week.
Trump has made it clear he wants to repeal Obamacare, and he’s almost certain to work that into his convention speech. But whether he endorses the Ryan plan, or just sticks to safe generalities, could say a lot about his future working relationship with the speaker — and the rest of the House Republicans, too.
Will anyone mention the word Zika?
It’s the biggest public health emergency of the summer, but Trump hasn’t talked about the Zika virus in any meaningful way, other than a passing reference in a June interview. (He said the United States should still go to the Olympics in Brazil, but that athletes shouldn’t have to participate if they don’t want to.)
For Trump and any other GOP speakers, though, any other attempt to mention the crisis could be a dangerous move. That’s because the Republican-controlled Congress couldn’t get a Zika emergency funding bill to Obama’s desk before lawmakers left for summer recess last week, nearly five months after Obama asked for the money.
Republicans blame Democrats — saying they blocked the bill to protect an “interest group,” as McConnell put it last week. The problem, though, is that the “interest group” is Planned Parenthood, which was the target of an anti-abortion rider in the bill. And Planned Parenthood is a source of tension between most Republicans and Trump, who has said that “millions of women are helped by Planned Parenthood” because of the women’s health services it provides.
Will Trump say anything about medical research?
Until now, Trump hasn’t mentioned medical research much, except in passing, But a convention speech is a chance to go deeper than candidates do in their stump speeches or their question-and-answer sessions with audiences.
So with all of the work that’s already underway to develop new therapies — including President Obama’s precision medicine initiative, Vice President Joe Biden’s cancer program, and the likelihood that Congress will give the National Institutes of Health another big funding increase — this could be the time when Trump addresses it in more depth.
The only thing medical research advocates want — from Trump as well as the other speakers at both conventions — is an understanding that simply giving a thumbs-up to medical research isn’t enough. They’d like to hear a commitment to long-term funding increases for the National Institutes of Health — and for basic science as well as the flashy programs like Biden’s cancer initiatives.
“The progress really comes about because of long-term, sustained investment in medical research,” said Hudson Freeze, president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. “My question is, are you going to continue the momentum?”