25 questions not answered

Profiles in obfuscation, not courage

Candidates running for governor in 2014 decide to duck questions – particularly about health care

PHOTO BY Richard Asinof

Candidates - declared and undeclared - running for governor in 2014 were not ready to share their health care policies, preferring to avoid answering questions.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 12/2/13
Health care will be a key issue in the upcoming 2014 elections, but the candidates running for governor in Rhode Island say they are not ready to answer questions about health care policies. It’s hard to believe that Mayor Angel Taveras, Treasurer Gina Raimondo, Mayor Allan Fung, Ken Block and Clay Pell are unable to articulate health care policies. As the old joke line goes, perhaps they are worried that their epidermis may be showing.

The failure of candidates to answer the questions asked by ConvergenceRI reveals how large the chasm between traditional media and digital media platforms has grown. For Republican candidates Ken Block and Mayor Allan Fung, the question is: how will they separate themselves from the “take no prisoners” approach of the national Republican Party when it comes to health care reform? Are they willing to acknowledge that Rhode Island is ahead of the curve in its health care evolution in adopting primary care focused, patient-centered medical homes?
And, for Democratic candidates Mayor Angel Taveras, Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Clay Pell, the question is: how closely aligned with President Obama, the Affordable Care Act, and HealthSourceRI will they be? In particular, Raimondo may face a difficult time in the Democratic primary if she strays too far from the health care reform platform, given the strong support women have voiced for it.
The question, suggested by former OHIC Commissioner Koller, “How do you see Rhode Island’s hospitals: are they an engine for economic growth and employment, or a source of community health?” gets to the heart of an important economic and health issue: the future role of hospitals. The skilled politician no doubt will use an analytical knife to suggest both and reject the dichotomy posed by the question.
By the time a new governor is elected in November of 2014, it’s likely that there may not be a single independent, non-aligned acute care community hospital operating in Rhode Island. Landmark is being sold to a for-profit California hospital chain, Westerly Hospital has been sold to a Connecticut hospital, Memorial Hospital has become part of the Care New England network, and CharterCARE is moving to become partners with a for-profit private equity firm in California.
The last remaining independent, unaligned community hospital – South County in Wakefield – is weighing options from three potential partners: Care New England, Lifespan, and SouthCoast in New Bedford, Mass.
With the departure of Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee and Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts in 2014, as well as the previous departure of OHIC’s Koller, three champions of health care reform at the state level will be gone, and it’s unclear which elected officials – and what policies – will replace them.
On Monday, Dec. 2, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is hosting an impromptu forum at Coastal Medical in East Providence in an attempt to show how health care reforms are improving quality of care and lowering spending.

PROVIDENCE - Politics, wrote Harold D. Lasswell, is the study of “Who gets what, when and how.”

The politics of health care is much the same: delivery of care is the story of the division between the haves and the have-nots.

ConvergenceRI was reminded of these political “truths” in its efforts to get a better understanding of what the candidates running for governor of Rhode Island in 2014 have to say about health, science, innovation, the research engine and technology.

Two weeks ago, ConvergenceRI sent each of the candidates 25 questions and asked for their responses.

R.I. Treasurer Gina Raimondo declined to provide any answers to the questions, with her political advisor, Collin Berglund of Friends of Gina Raimondo saying: “The Treasurer is not a declared candidate at this time.” This, of course, is certainly news to the donors who have given millions in fund-raising to support her ‘undeclared” candidacy. In other words, Raimondo decided to avoid answering the questions posed by ConvergenceRI.

Patrick Sweeney, the political consultant working for Mayor Allan Fung, wanted to know before Fung responded, “Can you tell me which of the gubernatorial candidates have responded?”

“Our health policy is still developing,” Sweeney said. “I’m not sure if we’ll have answers that soon [for a Saturday deadline, two weeks after the questions had been first received.] I’ll keep you posted.” ConvergenceRI never heard back from Sweeney.

David Ortiz, the press spokesman for Mayor Angel Taveras, said that the questions had been given to the policy staff of the mayor’s campaign, and that they were struggling with some of the health care questions. Ortiz told ConvergenceRI that the mayor’s positions on health care policies were evolving.

A similar tale came from the top policy aide for Ken Block, who refused to complete the questionnaire unless they could fully answer the health care questions, which made up about one-third of the questions. “We don’t want to give an answer that’s not precise,” he told ConvergenceRI, when it was suggested that the candidate simply admit that his health care policy was not yet defined.

[A request to answer the questionnaire was also made of Clay Pell, who is considering a run for governor. No response was received.]

The failure of all the candidates to be willing to answer questions – particularly about health care in Rhode Island – is a clue to how volatile the polling must be about health care policies. It is also difficult to believe that candidates – declared or undeclared – are unable at this point to articulate clear policy answers in regard to health care as well as innovation, research, science and technology.

An engaged community, disengaged candidates
In the new digital world, the policy conversation will be driven by an engaged public – and not by disengaged candidates. Here are the questions that the candidates refused to answer, some very perfunctory. 

Questions for candidates running for governor of Rhode Island in 2014
1. Do you support the implementation of the Affordable Care Act?
2. What do you like about the current system of health care delivery?
3. How much does your health insurance cost per month? How much do you personally contribute to the plan? What is your deductible?
4. Do you support the expansion of Medicaid in Rhode Island?
5. Do you support HealthSourceRI, the state’s health benefits exchange?
6. How do you think Rhode Island should pay for the costs of managing HealthSourceRI in the future?
7. If HealthSourceRI is still mandated through an executive order when you take office in January of 2015, would you undo it by executive order?
8. How do you see Rhode Island’s hospitals: are they an engine for economic growth and employment, or a source of community health? [question suggested by former OHIC Commissioner Christopher F. Koller]
9. Do you support the expansion of the R.I. Chronic Care Sustainability Initiative?
10. When was the last time you visited a community health center? Which one? Why were you there?
11. What role do you think the state should play in promoting collaborative research initiatives?
12. How would you define Rhode Island’s innovation ecosystem?
13. What do you think should be done to address the issue of elevated levels of lead in schoolchildren in Rhode Island, and the issue of the growing incidence of asthma?
14. Do you believe that there should be some kind of legislative cost controls or caps placed on medical expenses?
15. Have you ever personally participated in a wellness program in the workplace? What was it?
16. Do you believe in investing in innovative solutions to problems that can produce better long-term outcomes and reduced costs?
17. Do you tweet? (Or, does someone do it for you?)
18. Do you believe climate change is a threat? If not, why not?
19. How will you work in partnership with Rhode Island’s current Congressional delegation?
20. What do you see as the brightest spots in Rhode Island’s economic future?
21. What do you see as the proper role of the state’s economic development agency?
22. Do you support efforts to make Rhode Island a global hub for digital media?
23. What kind of car do you currently drive, its year and make? Why?
24. What kinds of initiatives will you recommend to address the epidemic of substance abuse in Rhode Island related to prescription painkillers?
25. What kinds of regional approaches to clean energy and advanced manufacturing would you like to see Rhode Island involved with?

If and when answers are received by the candidates, ConvergenceRI will be happy to publish them.


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