MADELEINE BRAND, host:
From NPR News, this is Day to Day. President-elect Barack Obama has quite a to-do-list beginning January 20th. With the economy in shambles, big-ticket items like health-care reform could fall to the bottom. Here is one low-cost health policy idea from family physician and former assistant surgeon general Douglas Kamerow.
Dr. DOUGLAS KAMEROW (Family Physician; Former Assistant Surgeon General): Dear President-elect Obama: I know that times are tough, and that there's not a lot of money out there for health-care reform. So, while you and your advisers are figuring out how to pay for covering 46 million uninsured Americans, I've got a suggestion. Stop the government's subversion of scientific research that's been going on for the last eight years. The current administration has withheld or falsified the results of scientific studies multiple times in multiple disciplines.
Let me give you just a few examples from medicine. In the area of women's health and contraception, they insisted on and publicized the effectiveness of abstinence-only sex education, despite a lack of evidence for it. They posted erroneous data linking abortion and breast cancer on CDC's website. They distorted evidence on the effectiveness of condoms in preventing HIV transmission. And, for over three years, they delayed FDA approval of over-the-counter sales of the emergency contraceptive Plan B, despite overwhelming evidence of its safety and effectiveness.
In environmental health, they censored congressional testimony by the CDC on the health hazards of climate change, and they distorted the results of formaldehyde testing in government-supplied trailers for Hurricane Katrina victims.
In a National Healthcare Disparities Report, they insisted the government researchers drop their conclusion that racial disparities are pervasive in our health-care system, and that they remove findings of disparities in health care for cancer, heart disease, AIDS and asthma. And finally, they delayed or prevented their own surgeon general from issuing national reports on secondhand smoking, emergency preparedness and global health.
Now, every incoming president has the right to promote his political agenda. When President Bush took office in 2001 on an anti-abortion platform, he immediately ended support for all foreign aid to family planning clinics that counseled patients about abortion. One can argue that this was a harmful action that should not have been done.
But it was at least presented honestly as a policy decision, not a scientific one. And we're not talking about simple spin here. Friends and former colleagues throughout the government have told me that the extent of falsification and suppression of scientific evidence by this administration is unprecedented.
So, what can you, Mr. Obama, as the new president, do about all this? During your first week in office, you could issue an executive order supporting unimpeded scientific research, the primacy of peer review, and the freedom of government scientists to submit their research results for publication. And you could pledge not to interfere with the scientific processes and activities of government agencies. This is a low-cost change in policy that has a good chance of improving the health and health care of all Americans.
BRAND: That's Douglas Kamerow, a primary-care physician, and he was U.S. assistant surgeon general. And you can comment on Dr. Kamerow's essay by going to the opinion section of our website, npr.org.