July 6, 2007
An Issue That Hits Home for Most of the Candidates
By ROBIN TONER
WASHINGTON, July 5 When it comes to health care, the personal is
Presidential candidates may struggle to connect with voters on issues
like job losses from a globalized economy or the daily anxiety of
having a loved one in Iraq. But to a remarkable degree, almost every
candidate in this race can speak from experience with the health care
system, having endured his or her own health problems or those of
close family members. And as they talk to voters about health care,
they often allude to their own stories.
Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, talks about sitting at the
bedside of his mother, as she lay dying from ovarian cancer at the age
of 53, "and she was spending time worrying about whether or not she
would have anything left over, if she was able to survive the illness."
She died within six months, exhausting all her resources by the end,
he said. Mr. Obama says he had to "spend a lot of time arguing with
the insurer about when she had been diagnosed with this ovarian
cancer, because they started making arguments that she had a
Former Senator John Edwards, the North Carolina Democrat and a trial
lawyer, describes his struggles with insurance companies after breast
cancer was first diagnosed in his wife, Elizabeth, in 2004.
"Here you have a former senator, presidential candidate,
vice-presidential candidate, and I'm a lawyer. I'd get those
statements from the insurance companies, I had no idea what they
meant," Mr. Edwards said in Iowa recently. "I felt like a blooming idiot."
But he and Mrs. Edwards, who is currently battling a recurrence of her
cancer, also talk about how fortunate they feel to have access to the
best medical treatment and how difficult it must be for families who
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, sometimes draws
on anecdotes about her husband's heart surgery in 2004 as a way of
empathizing with voters who have their own memories and frustrations
with the medical system, especially its bureaucracy. At one event in
New Hampshire, as Mrs. Clinton made the case for a more cost-efficient
and modern system of electronic recordkeeping, she recalled checking
out of the hospital and confronting bills for medical supplies and
treatments for her husband, a huge amount of paperwork created by
antiquated accounting procedures.
Democrats invoke their experiences as they make the case for a major
overhaul of the health care system. But Republicans, like former Mayor
Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York, who was treated for prostate cancer
in 2000, argue that more governmental involvement in health care or
any move toward the single-payer systems of Canada or Europe, is not
"When is the last time anyone went from America to Europe for health
care?" Mr. Giuliani asked recently.
Mr. Giuliani said he sometimes fielded calls from people outside the
country hoping to be accepted into cancer treatment centers in the
United States never the other way around. He describes the American
system as "the best health care system in the world," although he
acknowledges it has flaws that he promises to address.
Adam Nagourney, Marc Santora, Michael Cooper and Patrick Healy