Now there are five

By Tom Sullivan
12:37 PM

Jon Huntsman, one of the Republican candidates with a background of instituting new healthcare measures, dropped out of the presidential race Jan. 16.

The Atlantic speculates that being “largely unknown to a national audience,” factored into his campaign never quite maturing, while CNN describes Huntsman’s efforts as “a long, steady flatline, with maybe the slightest sign of a heartbeat in the days before the New Hampshire primary, but far too little and too late to make any difference.”

[See also: Newt Gingrich on health IT: Then, today, and the time between.]

What Huntsman represented was the potential to raise healthcare’s profile in the debates and presidential primaries.

Huntsman, after all, put forth Time to Compete: An American Jobs Plan, that the Wall Street Journal considered best-in-class (subscription required), and Forbes contributor Avik Roy wrote “contains significant health policy reforms that would dramatically improve the (shrinking) private-sector portion of our health-care system.” Roy continued that Huntsman’s tax policy also has “profoundly positive implications for health care, because it eliminates our third health-care entitlement: the $300-billion-a-year tax-exemption for employer-sponsored health insurance. It is the original sin of American health policy: the World War II-era wage controls that incentivized employers to purchase insurance for their workers, tax-free, instead of giving that money to employees as salary and letting them buy insurance for themselves.”

Prior to that Huntsman, while governor of Utah, signed a 2008 law to overhaul the state’s health system, including the establishment of a health insurance exchange, opposed the individual mandate, and created a tax benefit for residents purchasing their own health insurance.

Thus far, “Romney hasn’t been pushed to lay out his real views on health care. He’s been able to get away with just throwing darts at the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA),” health IT and pharma consultant David Williams wrote in this post on the Health Business Blog. “Let’s face it, the Obama/Clinton face-off in the 2008 Democratic primaries was much more substantive – simultaneously wonkish and aspirational in fact.”

[Related: All of our coverage of healthcare in the elections 2012.]

Now that Huntsman’s out of the race, Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, and Paul are perhaps less likely to be challenged on any wonkish intentions for how they would handle healthcare as president, save the GOP chant of repealing the PPACA altogether. That sort of repeal is certainly welcome to the Tea Party chapters of South Carolina.

But it does not advance the issue of healthcare in the 2012 elections beyond vague and rather elusive answers about Medicaid.