Questionnaire Distills Candidates' Health Policies A health research advocacy group recently sent a questionnaire to both campaigns asking for policy details on issues such as health care coverage, stem cell research, the Medicare prescription drug benefit, and funding for NIH, FDA and CDC. Mary Woolley, president of Research!America, talks about the candidates' responses.
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Questionnaire Distills Candidates' Health Policies

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Questionnaire Distills Candidates' Health Policies

Questionnaire Distills Candidates' Health Policies

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This is Talk of the Nation Science Friday, I'm Ira Flatow. If you listen to the speeches in Denver and St. Paul you might have noticed a conspicuous absence. There was very little talk about science at the conventions. May be a passing mention of health care or global warming, or here or there in the speeches. But little or no talk about embryonic stem cell research or the funding for our research institutions, like the National Institutes of Health. So to help us find out where the candidates stand on important biomedical issues, the nonprofit group Research America sent a questionnaire to the candidates. Both Obama and McCain campaign reporters responded, and joining me now to talk about them is Mary Woolley. Welcome back to Science Friday, Mary.

Ms. MARY WOOLLEY (President, Research America): Hi, Ira. Great to be with you.

FLATOW: I want to tell everybody, first of all that we're going to be doing in-depth coverage of just the health issues but I wanted - you covered more than just health in this questionnaire, did you not?

Ms. WOOLLEY: We have. We've covered health, research for health and science issues including global competitiveness. So we believe very strongly, Ira, that it's time for our candidates to be talking about science, addressing research as well as health. We think that consistent with the American public's own enthusiasm for science and the great importance the people place on health, that it's time to link those things and it's time for the candidates to be speaking out.

FLATOW: You did ask in your nationwide survey, you asked the public whether they would like to see more debate about scientific questions and the majority said, yes, absolutely.

Ms. WOOLLEY: That's absolutely right, but we have yet to see a pickup from the candidates, which is why we've created the voter education initiative called the yourcandidates - that's plural - so that everyone who cares about health issues and research and science more broadly can go on the Web and find out what the candidates have to say in their own words, and then can urge them to talk about these things in the public dialogue, in the public marketplace.

FLATOW: And how did you decide what questions to ask?

Ms. WOOLLEY: Well, we decided the questions based on input from the readers of Parade Magazine, which as you know, reaches 75 million plus Americans every week. They were asked in a call-out article some months ago to let Parade know and through Parade Research America what questions they wish that the candidates would address when it comes to health and research for health. We took that information and combined it with what we know from commissioning public opinion polls and created the questions that are up on the web which both now Senator McCain and Senator Obama have responded to as well as, I might add, people running for the Congress. Those responses are coming in as well.

FLATOW: One of the questions you asked the candidates was about federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells. Were there any differences in the responses there?

Ms. WOOLLEY: There are differences and I encourage your listeners to take a look at these so that you can look at them verbatim because you have there on the website for verbatim responses. To give you a flavor of it, Senator McCain for example says that he supports federal funding for embryonic stem cell research but also believes that "clear lines should be drawn to reflect the refusal to sacrifice moral values and ethical principles for the sake of scientific progress." I am quoting him there

FLATOW: Did they get into what the definition of that last line is?

Ms. WOOLLEY: He did not. He did not.

FLATOW: Seems a little vague, you know.

Ms. WOOLLEY: Yeah. But that is - you know, I just want to emphasize those are his words and we should also keep in mind that Senator McCain has as a senator supported expanding funding for embryonic stem cells.

FLATOW: Right. And he voted in Congress for it.

Ms. WOOLLEY: That's Correct.

FLATOW: And Barack Obama?

Ms. WOOLLEY: Senator Obama is a more explicit in saying that he strongly supports expanding funding for embryonic stem cell research, and goes into some detail in that regard. And also takes the opportunity to point out that stem cell research holds promise for treatments and cures for more than 70 major diseases and condition.

FLATOW: You also asked about funding for NIH and other government research agencies.

Mr. WOOLLEY: We did. We asked about the candidate's level of confidence in and support for the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency for Health Research and Quality, and the FDA. And in a sort of top line summary, in every case Senator McCain says that he supports funding for these agencies, and in every case Senator Obama says he supports increased funding for those agencies. So there is a difference there and there's more detail as to their position. So I think it would be not correct to say that Senator McCain doesn't support increased funding. He may in fact and he has supported it in the past but he doesn't say that in the response.

FLATOW: They do give some pretty complete responses on there to you and on their website.

Ms. WOOLLEY: Mm-hmm.

FLATOW: Two questions of issues of science technology and health, especially in health, they both seemed to say that the health care system needs reform.

Ms. WOOLLEY: They do and they have specific suggestions about how they would go about reforming it. They don't always bring in the research component. Reform, if it's going to be smart and cost effective, really needs to be science-based. That point comes through to a greater or lesser extent in their responses. I would say they both do focus on the importance of prevention and wellness. I think that's widely supported by the American public. But in order for that to be more than words it's going to need some dollar power behind it. Some brain power in terms of science and then the dollar power.

FLATOW: And of course, they can, our listeners can go read more about the Research America survey, your website.

Ms. WOOLLEY: That's correct. And again, you can go directly to this survey at

FLATOW: Tell us a little bit about Research America.

Ms. WOOLLEY: Research America is the nation's largest alliance of organization that are committed to making research for health a higher national priority. And we have over 500 members of the alliance and they range - many of those are in fact partner organization in this voter education initiative. So they include, for example, the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, which has made it possible for this questionnaire to be viewed in Spanish again on the Web site. We also include many voluntary patient-based organizations like the American Heart Association, the Cancer Society and the Alzheimer Association. We have academic institutions that are providing state-of-the-art medical care as well as teaching tomorrow's medical professionals and prevention with health professionals as well.

FLATOW: And you have pharmaceutical company?

Ms. WOOLLEY: And pharmaceutical and biotech companies as well, and scientific societies and medical societies.

FLATOW: Well, Mary Wooley, we want to thank you for taking time to be with us today.

Ms. WOOLEY: My pleasure, Ira.

FLATOW: Mary Wooley, president of Research America, and if you want to find her website, she told you how to get there. And if you've forgotten, you can go to where we have links to her page.

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