Last night’s debate ignored some critical health care issues

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Good afternoon, readers.

Well that was… a week. Hours after this newsletter reached your inboxes last Thursday, we found out that President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump had tested positive for COVID-19. The President was hospitalized at Walter Reed (and subsequently released); a slew of other White House officials have tested positive since then; Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris sparred in a debate last night; and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. More on all of that below.

But I want to focus on the vice presidential debate. It was a far more civil (or at least far less chaotic) affair than the bizarre, difficult-to-follow showdown between Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden the week before. Unfortunately, as is the case with many modern-day political debates, style and political talking points often overtook substantive policy conversations—and health care was no exception.

There was plenty of sparring over the Trump administration’s COVID-19 response and what a Biden administration may do differently (national mask mandates, a renewed emphasis on producing protective equipment, funding to make sure a potential vaccine can be administered at scale—all of which Pence claimed the Trump administration has already made a priority).

There were the usual scuffles over the Affordable Care Act, which forced Pence to thread the needle between the administration’s efforts to dismantle the entire law and the President’s promise to preserve protections for everyone with pre-existing conditions (the latter would likely not be possible were the former to happen barring rapid Congressional action).

These are critical topics and a predictable dialogue as COVID rages on, especially on the issue of pre-existing conditions. But there are plenty of other important health care issues which never saw the light of day.

For instance: What are we doing about other diseases which are projected to kill millions upon millions in the coming years and decades, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia-related disorders? There are some treatments working their way down the line in that field, but it’s an open question whether or not they will be effective. Given that Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in America, killing more than 121,000 people every year, it may have been worth broaching how the federal government can enhance existing research.

Here’s another one: Nutritional inequality caused by food deserts. We often hear about America’s obesity, and child obesity, problem but tend to gloss over its sources. The reality is that there’s a very real problem in low-income neighborhoods in accessing healthy foods at affordable prices. You may have to turn to a bodega and get some cold cuts because there’s simply nowhere else to go, and that’s a recipe for bad food habits which can have long-term effects on one’s health. What can we do to fix that?

The list goes on. Environmental policy isn’t just about cleaning up the climate at large or creating or losing jobs, as was largely the focus of last night’s debate, but also an issue that disproportionately affects people who may have to live near industrial plants; the way that clinical trials are conducted discriminates against women and minorities, meaning that good science may not be serving as much of the public as it can be.

These are just some of the issues that might have come up in a truly substantive conversation around health care. Maybe some day they will.

Read on for the day’s news, and see you next week.

Sy Mukherjee

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