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Parties, Platforms, and Planks: Where Democrats and Republicans Stand on Healthcare

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By Januari Leo

“Hillary Clinton is a liar who displays no warmth.” “Donald Trump is an egomaniac who spews hatred with little consideration for repercussions.” Turn on the news (or open up social media) for less than five minutes and expect to be inundated with words and images that reinforce these statements. Politics has grown exponentially more divisive, and much of this centers on personalities while completely ignoring important policy questions.

Fortunately, policy issues still play a role in shaping party platforms—those lofty statements of principles, goals, and strategies crafted by party leaders. In its preamble, the 2016 Republican platform states that it is “a handbook for returning decision-making to the people, a guide to the constitutional rights of every American, and a manual for the kind of sustained growth that will bring opportunity to all those on the sidelines of our society.” By contrast, the Democratic preamble states that “cooperation is better than conflict, unity is better than division, empowerment is better than resentment, and bridges are better than walls.”

Both party platforms spend time on healthcare. The Affordable Care Act (ACA, or “Obamacare”) has been a cause célèbre since its passage in 2010, and it receives ample attention in both platforms. Republicans vow an immediate repeal upon the election of their presidential candidate (assuming they maintain control of both the House and the Senate), stating that Obama’s plan “imposed a Euro-style bureaucracy to manage its unworkable, budget-busting, conflicting provisions.” In its stead, the Republican plan would “reduce mandates, promote price transparency, limit federal requirements on both private insurance and Medicaid, and allow consumers to buy insurance across state lines.”

Democrats are “proud to be the party that passed Medicare, Medicaid, and the ACA,” and believe that “healthcare is a right, not a privilege.” In addition to continuing to champion the ACA, they seek to give power to the states to create innovative healthcare solutions through waivers, curb surprise billing that can lead to excessive medical debt, and keep fighting until Medicaid expansion has been adopted in every state.”

The LGBT community is featured in both parties’ healthcare planks, both implicitly and explicitly. The Republican platform has garnered considerable attention for stating that they “support the right of parents to consent to medical treatment for their minor children,” which has been seen as condoning controversial conversion therapy. Religious-freedom laws have been gaining traction across the United States, and the GOP explicitly believes that “America’s healthcare professionals should not be forced to choose between following their faith and practicing their profession.” These laws, like the ones passed in Tennessee and Mississippi earlier this year, make it legal for health professionals to deny treatment to clients who violate their personal beliefs. Democrats, in contrast, “support a progressive vision of religious freedom that respects pluralism and rejects the misuse of religion to discriminate.” They pledge to address discrimination and barriers in reproductive healthcare based on gender, sexuality, race, income, and disability.

Prior to the conventions, a group of HIV/AIDS advocates and activists from across the U.S. met with Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton to gauge their commitment to achieving an AIDS-free generation. The result was the inclusion of an HIV/AIDS plank in the Democratic platform that encourages the implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, increased research funding for the National Institutes of Health, and a cap on pharmaceutical expenses. The Republican platform does mention AIDS in the global context of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), but not domestically. However, there is a plank on reforming the Food and Drug Administration, including passing legislation that gives people with terminal illnesses the right to try medicines that have yet to be approved. This is notable, as this concept was a key and contentious part of the early fight to speed the development of HIV/AIDS medication. (Initial requests for comment from Republican candidate Donald Trump’s campaign have yet to receive a serious response.)

Before entering the voting booth this fall, it is critical to move beyond the cult of personality and try to understand the policies that each party is putting forward for the country. The party platforms are easy to read, and broad in their scope. The last day to register to vote is October 11; early voting begins October 24, and Election Day is November 8. It’s time to look beyond the candidates and find out where each party stands on the issues.

Januari Leo is the director of public affairs at Legacy Community Health’s Montrose clinic.

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