Grading the 2016 Presidential Candidates on Their HIV/AIDS Policies
April 10, 2016
Look at the fact that the AIDS crisis is still not over -- and then look at the ballot box for the 2016 presidential election. Look to the South, where young gay black men and Latinos are showing up at clinics at record rates. Look at prisons in Louisiana, look at what trans folks, trans women, endure. Women overall are still struggling with HIV despite new prevention efforts like the vaginal ring. Imagine what a straight man goes through, and look at what gay and bisexual men are still going through. It's vital that we carefully consider who is running for president and who is most likely to get things done for the HIV/AIDS community.
Here's my report card for each candidate:
The Republican Candidates: Trump, Cruz and Kasich
Among the Republican candidates -- Trump, Cruz and Kasich -- none include any substantial mention of HIV/AIDS in their health policies, and none have answered the HIV community questionnaires for this year's presidential contenders.
John Kasich: A Blip in the Right Direction -- Grade D
But one of them had a blip in the right direction -- John Kasich. Governor Kasich supports the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Bypassing the state legislature, he signed Medicaid expansion into law for all of Ohio. That took some guts for a GOP hardliner like Kasich. The AIDS Resource Center cheered for Kasich in 2015, noting that Ohio has about 1000 new HIV infections every year, and every infection costs Ohio taxpayers nearly $400,000 a year.
But Kasich also signed a bill to defund Planned Parenthood and that can't be excused. Planned Parenthood bashing is universally political and bad for our health. Its prevention programs are excellent, including its support of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and it is a necessary go-to for sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing and treatment referrals. Too often, it's the only game in town. Now, Kasich has done away with them, and that's a big a strike against the Governor. Kasich's conservative approach to health care is no replacement for the progressive plan now in effect.
Ted Cruz: Homophobia and AIDS-Phobic Rhetoric -- Grade F-
Ted Cruz has support form some prominent gay men. But many more loathe him for his homophobic and AIDS-phobic rhetoric. Cruz joined pastor Rick Scarborough onstage last month for a rally and mass. Scarborough, who believes AIDS is God's punishment for gays, has endorsed Cruz. And it's important to note that Cruz mimics David Barton, who rails against a vaccine for HIV because "the Bible says" AIDS is God's penalty for homosexuality.
That, in the nuttiest nutshell, is Ted Cruz: A man who insists that Obamacare is destroying this country. Like every other Republican candidate, Cruz wants to dismantle the ACA on his first day in office. I wouldn't TrusTed as far as I could throw him -- and believe me, I'd like to throw him right out of the country.
Donald Trump: Promise of Human Rights Trauma Despite Health Care Pledges -- Grade: D-
I mildly ascertain that providing health care is of some importance to Donald J. Trump. But clearly, anyone who feels women should be punished for illegal abortions is not thinking about their health. Women also contract HIV, and I do not believe Trump would shape up when it comes to women's health needs on that either.
I also don't think he would give much thought to the care of social institutions like prisons, hospitals and schools. And certainly his racism doesn't bode well for fixing the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the black and Hispanic communities. Not to mention refugees -- do we even need to go there? I'd rather build a fence around Trump Tower.
Trump has not impressed me as someone who gives a damn about anything other than Donald J. Trump. And, like all the Republican contenders, his insistence on repealing the ACA to make health care "great again" is bogus and ill timed. When reading his health care plan, be sure to check out his views on the power of the federal government to do nothing and act as if it's something.
Trump has one thing in his favor: He understands that the drug companies are robbing this nation blind. And Trump endorses the removal of barriers to free trade so that Medicaid can negotiate drug pricing. That's good news in an otherwise dismal Trumpian deathscape.
Trump calls for price transparency for all health care providers, tax deductions for health care costs and a modification of laws that bar interstate health commerce -- a nominal victory if it were enacted, but it won't stop the raging epidemic.
Overall, Trump would be a good bulldog on the side of lowering health care cost, but the negatives of his campaign and the human rights trauma that would come with a Trump presidency don't fit the health bill. Health care requires a degree of finesse and compassion; Trump is sorely without either.
The Democratic Candidates: Clinton and Sanders
Which brings us to the Democrats. Bernie Sanders plan is "Medicare for all." And that's a fine thing. If the senator from Vermont can get the House and Senate to pass universal health care we are talking about free PrEP, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and treatment as prevention (TasP); free doctor visits and STI screenings. We are talking about full coverage and no limitations.
As policy, we know that Clinton sought universal care in 1994 and failed. Maybe Bernie can do it in 2016, but I have to wonder how long it would take. Because if we're looking at four or eight more years, that matters.
Bernie Sanders: Feeling the Bern's Message, But Reasons to Be Uneasy -- Grade: A-
Bernie Sanders is "working to create an AIDS and HIV-free generation." The Senator talks about the need to apply a social-democratic model to our broken system -- and I agree with Bernie. I believe in Medicare for all, and I support him getting us there.
But Sanders has his detractors. Solid criticism can been found on the cost of Bernie's plan. And it remains to be seen if Sanders can get a majority in the House and Senate to implement his policies.
That being said, criticism or no, for the first time in my life there's a candidate who supports an American health care system for which cost is not a barrier to care. I'm feeling the Bern right about now; health care is a right, and Senator Sanders knows it.
But two things make me uneasy. The first is that we need a full Democratic majority to make this happen, and I don't think we're going to get one. The second is Bernie's plan to create a three-billion-dollar drug prize fund to encourage the development of innovative HIV treatments. This seems a bit misguided. We have prophylaxis and antiretrovirals that work. What we don't have is a strategy to get them into bodies. The end of AIDS-related deaths will take more than medicine. It's going to take a social revolution. Of all the candidates, Bernie is the one I'd bet is most likely to lead the charge.
Hilary Clinton: Second Apology Accepted -- Grade: A
Clinton's second apology, the one she published on Medium, made a solid case for what she was going to do about the epidemic. It felt as if she understood both the pain her gaffe had caused to people who lived through the Reagan years and also what she could do to correct history -- both her own and Nancy Reagan's.
I applauded her then, as now. Even better, a few days after the second apology came an entire HIV/AIDS policy page on her campaign website. On it, Clinton calls for expanding the ACA and Medicaid, going after pharmaceutical companies to lower prices and reforming laws that discriminate against people with HIV.
Why Clinton Is My Choice for the "Most Likely to Succeed HIV/AIDS Policy"
Clinton and Sanders are both compassionate candidates. Both say they oppose HIV criminalization in the most recent HIV community questionnaire . Bernie Sanders wants to expand Medicare, while Clinton wants to work with the ACA and expand Medicaid state by state. Both make care an imperative, and they want to reduce its cost and impact for all people. But Clinton has a leg up -- she seems to understand the sociological factors, and she's appears better educated about HIV/AIDS -- albeit not so much about the Reagans.
I am not a one-issue voter. But if I were, and if I had one vote to cast in 2016 to bring us closer to an end of this epidemic, it would be for Hillary Clinton. She has done plenty in the fight. And while both Democrats have shown remarkable faith and generosity -- and both plans show forward momentum -- it's Clinton's plan that shows forethought, a seamless transition from Obama and the most nuanced insight. So Clinton wins my vote for the HIV/AIDS policy most likely to succeed in 2016.
Matthew Ebert is an American writer who most recently lived and worked on a dairy farm in Sheshequin, Pennsylvania. In 1987, at the age of 22, he joined the AIDS activist group ACT UP, and has remained committed to a cure for AIDS ever since. In 1995 he tested positive for HIV, and received an AIDS diagnosis later that year.
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This article was provided by TheBody.
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