Underdog Candidate Talks Health At Dartmouth Medical Center

This story was written by Ahra Cho, The Dartmouth
Calling for an American healthcare system based on active prevention as opposed to reaction, presidential hopeful and former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., addressed residents, doctors and staff of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center on Friday afternoon.

Huckabee chose to focus on his personal political experiences rather than his current platform, highlighting the successes of his health programs as governor. He told the crowd that, by mandating all public school students to have their body mass index measured and allowing state employees time to exercise during work hours, as governor he helped the government increase its long-term savings.

Huckabee also declared that the United States did not have a healthcare crisis, but a health crisis, explaining that although the facilities and resources available in American hospitals were extensive, the United States was spending over two trillion dollars a year on healthcare. Of this amount, 80 percent is used for the treatment of chronic diseases, an "imbalance" which Huckabee said would eventually lead to an "economic crisis."

"Chronic disease is really driving the cost and creating a system that not only makes it unsustainable economically, but also forces out the capacity to extend the coverage to more people," Huckabee said.

At the Friday event, Huckabee criticized both the current health plan and those touted by Democrats, calling the plans "upside down." He said that a shift from intervention to prevention was necessary to stop increasing rates of insurance and increasing obesity rates in America.

"We wait until people are catastrophically ill and then our focus is intervention, which is extraordinarily expensive," Huckabee said. "Somewhere, we're going to have to make a generational, cultural shift from a disease system to a health system, focusing instead on how to prevent disease before it becomes completely out of control."

Not only is the nation's system producing increasingly unhealthy generations, but is weighing down businesses, he said, to the point where companies are now paying more for employees' healthcare than for the production of their actual products.

"You're not really buying coffee at Starbucks," Huckabee said. "You're paying for healthcare, and they're giving coffee as thank you gift."

Child obesity need to be addressed right now, he said, and the long-term financial issues of health problems needed to be considered to save costs and more lives.

"Are we going to continue treat snake bites, or will we decide that killing a couple of snakes will be a better use of our effort and time?," he asked the audience.

He was careful, however, to say that the problem could not be fixed overnight, or even in an election cycle.

When asked by an audience member after his speech just how he would fix healthcare once he's in office, Huckabee said that he would leave the planning to the states. Before the new laws are engineered, Huckabee said, an attitude change is necessary.

When asked by a member of the audience if he could commit to lowering Medicaid costs, Huckabee joked, "That's all the time we have for today," before answering that committing to any reduction would be "difficult."

"There needs to be more individualized, personalized healthcare," he said to finish the night.

Audience members, while impressed with Huckabee's discussion of the issues, were disappointed with his lack of specificity.

"He did a good job touching on fundamental issues, and he had some good points on reimbursement from government," Peter Merrill, director of information systems at DHMC, said in an interview after the speech. "Yet, he didn't say much about how he would go on with his pln."

When asked if he would be willing to consider Huckabee for the upcoming primary debate, Peter Merrill answered, "Probably not."

According to a poll by Zogby, Huckabee has advanced to second place, now with 15 percent support for the Iowa caucus, passing former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani at 11 percent. Former Governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., still claims a lead among the GOP's candidates for president in New Hampshire -- the rest, including Huckabee, claim only single-digit support among Republican voters.

© 2007 The Dartmouth via U-WIRE