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2422NYT: An Issue That Hits Home for Most of the Candidates

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  • Ram Lau
    Jul 6, 2007
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      July 6, 2007
      An Issue That Hits Home for Most of the Candidates

      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
      pre-existing condition."

      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
      do not.

      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
      the solution.

      "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
      contributed reporting.