Aug. 11, 2000 (Washington) -- The last time I spoke with Joe Lieberman was at a dinner that he and his wife held on behalf of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. The senator from Connecticut had just chastised President Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky matter and was receiving kudos right and left for his courage in criticizing not only a fellow Democrat, but an old friend as well.
What's memorable about that dinner was that Lieberman took an evening out of his busy schedule to attend a fund-raiser for the MS Society. He attended the previous year's dinner as well. Like the other three candidates for national office, he is committed to health care issues and demonstrates it not only with his rhetoric, which is cheap in Washington, but also with his time.
I don't personally know any of the other three national candidates, so I have no personal understanding of their individual commitment to health care. I have no reason to doubt it, however. Al Gore's sister died of lung cancer. George W. Bush's sister died, when a toddler, of leukemia. Dick Cheney has had heart bypass surgery. All are personally familiar with illness and how it affects families and people.
But I do know Joe Lieberman, not as a politician but as a friend, and so I can attest to his commitment to health care issues. He favors expanded health insurance coverage. He favors helping seniors and the disabled on Medicare pay for their drugs. He favors expanding the ability of patients to deal with managed care.
What differentiates Lieberman from his running mate is that Lieberman, coming from a state with many insurance companies and from a philosophy that is generally sympathetic to business, would advocate private sector solutions to health needs, rather than programs that are strictly run by the government.
He also would be wary of price controls over prescription drugs, which is the big issue for the pharmaceutical industry as it lobbies for expanded access to prescription drugs for seniors.
I can tell you more about the senator's wife, Hadassah. The reason I know her husband is that Hadassah worked with me for three years on health care issues. If the Gore-Lieberman ticket is elected and Hadassah becomes the nation's 'second lady,' the health care community would have a new strong advocate in the White House.
Every first and second lady has her own interests that are reflected in how they spend their time. Barbara Bush promoted improved literacy. Hillary Clinton wrote about children -- remember "It Takes a Village?" Laura Bush, if her husband is elected, would support education. Tipper Gore is a mental health advocate. Lynne Cheney would support the arts.
Hadassah Lieberman comes out of a health care communications background. Should the Gore-Lieberman ticket be elected, Hadassah Lieberman would become an advocate for health generally, but especially for women's health. This is an issue that she worked on when she worked with me, and she has continued that focus as a private health care consultant.
It means that Hadassah would be an advocate of more funding for NIH research generally, but especially for breast cancer and other diseases that primarily affect women.
It means that Hadassah would support a policy of prompt FDA reviews of important new drugs, again in general terms but also for women's drugs.
It means that she would support the appointment of women to high-level positions in health care agencies. President Clinton is acknowledged to have an excellent and unprecedented record in that regard, as the secretary of health and human services and the commissioner of FDA are women, as was the first surgeon general under Clinton. With Hadassah in the White House, we would expect more of the same.
Hadassah is not like Hillary Clinton in that she would not use her position to seek to establish an independent constituency. She is very independent but focuses on being supportive of her husband. Their relationship is extremely close, so if Hadassah Lieberman becomes the second lady, health care issues will never be far from the mind of the vice president.