WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton led a health care reform effort in the 1990s, promoted medical research as a senator, and has been bashing price-hiking drug companies on the campaign trail and in TV ads.
So there’s every reason to expect her to make health care a major theme when she accepts the Democratic presidential nomination in Philadelphia on Thursday night. What she says about the future of medical research, public health, and the uninsured will give a valuable preview of what her priorities would be — and how far she’s willing to go to co-opt the ideas of her defeated rival, Bernie Sanders.
Here are the five biggest things to watch in health and medicine:
How much will Clinton channel Sanders?
When she first got into the race, Clinton’s goals for building on Obamacare were relatively modest, and focused mainly on controlling health care costs.
Now that she’s survived an unexpectedly tough nomination battle against Sanders — who wanted to keep expanding health care to reach the 29 million Americans who are still uninsured — she has gone farther. She now has proposals to let people 55 and older join Medicare, offer a “public option” health plan in every state as an alternative to private Obamacare plans, and doubling federal funding for community health centers for low-income people.
That package, worked out in detail between the Clinton and Sanders policy staffs, has helped to ease tensions between the two camps — so the Sanders campaign will be watching closely to see how much of it she mentions in her speech.
“This deal is an extremely important initiative. It will save lives and ease suffering,” said Warren Gunnels, Sanders’s policy director. “We look forward to working with her to turn it into a reality.”
Clinton and Sanders always saw eye to eye on the need to rein in prescription drug prices, but her acceptance speech will signal how enthusiastic she is about her new add-ons. She won’t talk about “Medicare for all,” as Sanders does — that was one of their biggest conflicts during the primaries. But she could embrace the goal of health care as “a fundamental right for every American,” as the Democratic platform says.
Those who want single-payer health care, however, won’t have to wait long to hear about it — it’s virtually guaranteed to be in Sanders’ speech on Monday night. “You’ll never hear Senator Sanders stop talking about a Medicare for all, single-payer system,” Gunnels said.
How wonky will Clinton be?
Most convention speeches are broad and thematic, not laundry lists of policy proposals. But wonkiness is a big part of Clinton’s brand. And she has already spent much of her campaign putting out detailed proposals for reining in rising prescription drug costs, lowering out-of-pocket health care expenses, accelerating Alzheimer’s disease research, supporting people with autism, and fighting substance abuse.
So health care and medical research groups will have a lot of reasons to tune into Clinton’s acceptance speech on Thursday night. Whether she mentions her proposals specifically — to contrast herself with the often vague Donald Trump — or just talks generally about the next steps in health care, her speech will send important signals about which issues would get the most attention in a Hillary Clinton administration.
The other recent Democratic nominees have talked about health care in varying levels of detail, but they’ve all made it an important part of their speeches. Bill Clinton talked in 1992 about “an America in which health care is a right, not a privilege,” foreshadowing both Clintons’ ill-fated attempt to reform the health care system. In 2000, Al Gore promised to “find new medicines and new cures, not just for cancer, but for everything from diabetes to HIV/AIDS.”
And in 2008, Barack Obama set the stage for the Affordable Care Act by calling for “affordable, accessible health care for every single American.” He also promised that “my plan will lower your premiums” for people who already had insurance — a promise that didn’t exactly come true. (Oops.)
What will Kaine bring to the table?
Clinton’s brand new running mate, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, is a reliable ally on issues like letting Medicare negotiate drug prices. But he’s also earned a unique reputation for focusing on prevention — keeping people healthy by heading off medical problems.
So it will be worth watching to see if Kaine can make a case for preventive health care in his acceptance speech — an angle that would help round out Clinton’s health care platform.
What about Obama’s medical research initiatives?
While Clinton has talked about her own research priorities — including Alzheimer’s, autism, and HIV/AIDS — she has said less about the future of the programs President Obama has launched, including the Precision Medicine Initiative, the BRAIN Initiative, and Vice President Joe Biden’s cancer effort.
The convention speech will give her a chance to do that. For Clinton, it’s a two-fer. Not only would it allow her to talk about her ideas for medical research — it also feeds into her view, which she has expressed in past speeches, that funding medical research is good for the economy because it helps create jobs.
“Let’s fund the scientific and medical research that spawns innovative companies and creates entire new industries, just as the project to sequence the human genome did in the 1990s, and President Obama’s initiatives on precision medicine and brain research will do in the coming years,” Clinton said in a speech last year at the New School in New York.
Will there be any surprises in the Trump attacks?
So far, Clinton’s attacks on Trump’s health care proposals have been standard fare. She has gone after him for proposing to repeal Obamacare — saying that would allow insurance companies to go back to rejecting people with health problems — and she has accused him of wanting to “wipe out safe, legal abortion.”
Both points are good bets to make their way into her speech, especially now that aggressive abortion opponent Mike Pence is on the GOP ticket. But the bigger question is whether Clinton — or any of the other convention speakers — will highlight Trump’s remarks and actions that have alarmed people in the medical research community, from tweeting about long-disproven theories about links between vaccines and autism to suggesting he might appoint a talk radio host as NIH director.
If they do, it would mean Clinton has decided to make her support of medical research — and science generally — part of the broader case for her election, not just her work on the health care issues that are always popular with the Democratic base.