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posted: 1/15/2010 12:01 AM

9th District GOP candidates sound off on health care reform, economy

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  • Susanne Atanus

    Susanne Atanus


Providing affordable health care for uninsured Americans and stimulating the economy are top issues in the Republican primary for the 9th Congressional District.

Susanne Atanus of Des Plaines and Joel Barry Pollak of Skokie, who face off on Feb. 2, have divergent approaches to achieving those goals.

Atanus, 51, is a certified paralegal with 18 years of experience with the U.S. General Services Administration. She served on the administration's Hispanic Advisory Council and supervised fundraising events.

Atanus favors affordable health insurance for those who want it, but believes the current system works. She said she is against any health care legislation proposal with a government-backed insurance option.

"It's money we don't have," Atanus said. "If they want it, they have to be able to afford it. Everybody has a responsibility to earn the income they need to get health insurance."

Unemployed or poor people can continue to use services provided at government-run hospitals, such as John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County, and get on a payment plan, she said.

"The way it's always been is that people who go to a hospital pay their bill. Part of their expenses is to help alleviate the costs of those who can't pay," Atanus said.

However, Atanus would like more audits of hospitals, nursing homes, pharmacies and doctors' services to protect patients against overcharging.

"We can reduce the amount of damages to victims, which will lower doctors' malpractice insurance premiums and will lower health care costs," she said.

The House and Senate have passed different versions of the measure, which aims to expand health coverage to millions of uninsured Americans, prevent insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions and slow the rate of growth of medical costs.

Pollak, 32, a recent Harvard University Law School graduate and human rights attorney, also is opposed to public option being part of health care reform. But, he said, the government should provide some type of insurance for those people who fall through the cracks of the current system.

"That would be cheaper than overhauling health insurance for 300 million Americans," said Pollak, a Democrat turned Republican. "The main problem with public option is it doesn't address the cost problem with health care. That cost problem plays into the fact that we have a large population of uninsured people."

Pollak said under the present reform proposal, "there is really no control over spending."

Pollak favors health care spending accounts that allow people to take money out of their paychecks pretax for medical expenses not covered by insurance, and tax credits for individuals and families. He also supports capping punitive damage awards for malpractice lawsuits and allowing patients to shop for health insurance across state lines.

"Real competition means allowing individuals to choose what health care they want," Pollak said. "I do think that some of these reforms can be done at the state level rather than the federal level."

Pollak also believes the federal economic stimulus packages, starting with the one President George W. Bush authorized in 2008 to bailout struggling financial institutions, have failed miserably.

"In the long term, we need to be concerned about the financial stability of Medicare and Social Security," he said.

Pollak said he supports ending congressional earmarks, cutting payroll taxes on workers and lowering business and capital gains taxes to give people incentive to increase their investments.

Atanus believes her economic stimulus policy will lead the country to greater prosperity, efficiency and lower taxes, though she did not specify exactly how she would accomplish that.

She favors a larger portion of the Illinois State Lottery receipts going to the municipalities to help lower property and sales taxes.

Atanus said the current financial market system allows Wall Street to take money away from the shareholders. If elected, she said she would propose legislation forcing public companies to guarantee "excellent returns" to shareholders on their investments, while capping executive pay.

"It is very important that we get out of this economic recession," Atanus said. "It's easy to do when we get a good return on our investment. People will be able to buy goats. Having a stronger economy, we will be able to combat militarism and terrorism. We will have money for discretionary spending, including our children's and grandchildren's college, vocational and graduate school. We will have a great future and go on vacations, and shop, which will be the greatest economic stimulus."

The 9th Congressional District Democratic candidate is incumbent U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Evanston. Green party candidates are Simon Ribeiro of Evanston and Morris Shanfield of Chicago.