U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who championed President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, says the legislation is Democrats' crowning achievement that will go down in history, while her Democratic primary challenger Simon Ribeiro says the law doesn't go far enough to reform health care.
Schakowsky, 67, a veteran Evanston Democrat, and Ribeiro, 30, a Catholic high school teacher from Evanston are vying for their party's nomination in the 9th Congressional District Democratic primary on March 20.
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Schakowsky, a staunch liberal, has represented the 9th Congressional District for 14 years.
Ribeiro has run as an independent Republican candidate in 2006, as a Green Party candidate in the 2009 special election for Rahm Emanuel's 5th Congressional District seat, and again as a Green Party candidate against Schakowsky in 2010.
The newly-drawn 9th District includes parts of Des Plaines, Niles, Park Ridge, Glenview, Rosemont, Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights, Rolling Meadows and Arlington Heights.
During candidate endorsement interviews, Schakowsky said Obamacare -- as she often refers to the health care reform legislation -- is getting harder to repeal now that portions of the law are being implemented and the public's understanding of the benefits has improved.
"Do you really want to say to the parents of children with disabilities that now they can be refused health care because of a pre-existing condition?" she asked. "Do you really want to say to seniors, now that your prescription drugs are less expensive that we're going to take that away from you and you're going to have to pay more?"
Ribeiro, a proponent of a government-backed single-payer health care system, said Schakowsky hasn't pressed the Obama administration enough to address flaws in the health care reform legislation.
"She's been more of an apologist rather than a critic," Ribeiro said.
Ribeiro said while the legislation has some good provisions, "the reforms that were enacted really failed the public."
"A lot of these important (provisions, such as pre-existing conditions) are not going to go into effect until 2014," he said. "There are patients literally dying, and they just don't have access to health care."
Ribeiro said the Obama administration should have pushed for a more universal health care system funded by tax revenues.
"This thing is so complicated, so convoluted and it really doesn't address major problems," Ribeiro said. "Medicaid, as is, doesn't address all the poor people. We don't have a health care system for the poor, and we don't have affordable health care even for the middle class."
Schakowsky said Democrats need to debunk a lot of the misinformation about the health care reform legislation and Medicare cuts. She said Medicare benefits have improved under the Obama administration.
"Half a trillion in (Medicare) savings has come from two sources -- stopping subsidizing private health insurance companies through the Medicare-plus programs, and through a ramped-up fraud and abuse area," she said.
Schakowsky said health care reform is shaping up to be a key issue in the presidential race, and if the House and Senate were under Republican control, the legislation could be in danger of being repealed.
"All the Republicans are running on ending Obamacare, which is a term that I think we should embrace," she said. "There will be a time when people will applaud (the legislation) ... that it will be a wonderful historical moment that we passed that legislation."