Campaign '08: Candidates Broaden Discussion at Armstrong Cancer Forum

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- Only six of the 17 declared candidates for President showed up at a two-day forum designed to bring cancer care to the forefront of campaign issues, but the discussion broadened into questions of overall health care.

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa, Aug. 30 -- Only six of the 17 declared candidates for President showed up at a forum here this week designed to bring cancer care to the forefront of campaign issues.

But those who came broadened the focus of the forum, sponsored by Lance Armstrong's cancer advocacy group, to include universal health care and increased spending for the NIH.

Four of the eight Democratic contenders-Sen. Hillary Clinton, former Sen. John Edwards, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, and Rep. Dennis Kucinich-took part in what was billed as the first single-issue forum of the campaign.

Few differences emerged among the candidates. All supported the idea that fighting cancer should be a national priority, the need for increased funding for cancer research, and greater freedom for researchers.

Clinton and Edwards both proposed doubling NIH funding, but Edwards over four years, Clinton over a decade.

The money to support those increases would come, at least in part, the candidates agreed, by shifting money from the Iraq war to support, as Richardson put it, "a surge in the war on cancer."

Universal health care, at least on some level, also won support from all the Democrats. Said Clinton, "the big goal of the war against cancer has to fit into the big goal of quality affordable health care. Universal health care for every single American. You cannot do one without the other."

Edwards drew applause from the audience when commenting on the difficulty of enacting health care reform in the '90s.

"I think if you give drug companies and insurance companies and their lobbyists a seat at the table, they'll eat all the food," he said.

Kucinich, who said the other candidates don't go far enough in their call to reform the system, also took out after health insurers. "These insurance companies make money not providing health care," he said.

Only two of the nine-member Republican field were present at the forum's second session -Sen. Sam Brownback and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

Like his Democratic counterparts, Huckabee said he sees the war on cancer as part of a broader need, wanting to "expand it to a war on [all] chronic disease."

But Huckabee didn't see universal health insurance as a solution. He would prefer to focus on preventive care, arguing that universal health coverage doesn't guarantee better quality care. Rather than universal coverage, "the primary goal," he said, "ought to be universal health."

Brownback said he would rely on strategies like health savings accounts to change the way health care is delivered. When asked specifically about increased funding for the NIH, he refused to commit to the doubling of the budget called for by Clinton and Edwards.

Instead, he said, the goal of eliminating cancer deaths should drive the budget, noting that "it may need tripling." Although he didn't specify where the funds would come from, he said he'd get them via recommendations from an independent commission similar to the one that advises on the closing of military bases.

Armstrong, a survivor of metastatic testicular cancer, voiced disappointment at the number of candidates who participated in the forum, especially noting the absence of former New York Mayor Rudolph. Giuliani and Sen. John McCain, who are both cancer survivors, promised similar forums during the campaign.