Presidential candidates and health care—watch them carefully

Politically, I’m a leftie. That should be no surprise to anyone who knows me. But when it comes to science and medicine, my politics are irrelevant. Given that John McCain has already made some questionable public statements regarding vaccines and autism, this seems like a good time to see what the democrats are saying.

Over at Hillary’s website, we can examine her positions on health care. She makes special mention of autism. Some of her recommendations sound quite reasonable and good, such as improving access to services for autistic children. But she repeats the questionable though popular idea that there is an “autism epidemic”, something that is far from proved. She makes mention of providing funding for evidence-based treatment, but also gives a shout-out to finding “environmental factors”, which is code for “toxins, mercury, vaccines” and all other kinds of hogwash. Sure, politicians have to appeal to everyone, but in appealing to everyone, it’s possible to appeal to no one strongly. Compromise over how to spend defense or highway money is one thing, but science should be guided by science, not the mercury militia.

Obama’s statement on autism is far more vague.

What I find interesting about both candidates’ websites is that they both feature autism prominently. That’s nice—we certainly need to learn more about autism. But why pick that over, say, heart disease, stroke, tobacco abuse, and cancer, which affect the health of far more Americans than autism ever will?

So what of McCain? His health care info also focuses on economics, which is fine.

McCain makes a very interesting statement about health education. He invokes personal responsibility, which is a common Republican phrase that happens to be important to health care. He then says:

Childhood obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure are all on the rise. We must again teach our children about health, nutrition and exercise – vital life information.

Does anyone see what he left out here? Sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise. What about sex education as part of health education? You can’t teach children about obesity, blood pressure, and diabetes, and then leave out one of the nations biggest health problems—unless you are trying to appease a certain constituency.

And like the Dems, he has an entire link to autism, something he doesn’t have for heart disease, cancer, or anything else. In his blurb, he also gives lip-service to “environmental factors”.

The point is not that autism doesn’t deserve funding. It most certainly does, as long as that funding is directed into evidence-based investigation, and not more studies looking at disproven hypotheses such as vaccines and “toxins”. The real point is that all three candidates, when speaking of health care, need to focus on what harms and kills most Americans. The Dems are actively speaking out on access. All three should at least include realistic plans to encourage health care initiatives that make use of evidence and not emotion.