Democratic contenders for the 14th Congressional District say they welcome Republican input on how to improve the Affordable Care Act, and pledge to reject cuts to Medicare. But they disagree on how much fraud exists in government-backed health care programs.
Dennis Anderson, of Gurnee, and John Hosta, of Spring Grove, agreed during a recent interview that the ACA needs reform on several levels.
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Anderson said flaws were to be expected in such a major change to the nation's health care system.
"The Affordable Care Act is going to be reformed many times in the future," Anderson said. "Besides the fact that the rollout was disastrous, there has been disruption (for) the people who expected to be able to keep their plans and not being able to keep them. In a lot of cases, those were plans that were substandard. That's a good thing. It's better for the consumer."
Hosta said some of the insurance plans people have ended up with have proved unable or unwilling to fulfill the promises advertised. Anecdotally, he's heard of customers getting stuck with half the bill for medical tests they thought were covered.
"There's some huge problems in the exchanges," Hosta said. "They are short-selling the doctors. Insurance has to be regulated. It has to be supervised to make sure the people that have insurance are going to be covered when they go to the doctor."
Hosta said the only way to fix problems like that is with input from Republicans and compromise by Democrats. Both he and Anderson welcomed the alternative plan pitched by Republicans, though neither said they would accept it wholesale nor discard the existing plan entirely.
"I have a number of concerns about (the GOP plan)," Anderson said. "It would automatically repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would be incredibly disruptive to the people who have already signed up. They would also like to say that you cannot be denied coverage (in the Republican plan). In fact, as I understand it, the proposal says that you cannot be denied coverage only if you have continuous coverage. If you lose your job and your coverage, if there's a gap, they can deny you. But I'm real glad that they have finally put forward a proposal."
Both candidates said they would not support cuts to Medicare but would back increased monitoring for fraud.
Where Anderson and Hosta differ is in how much of a problem Medicare has with fraud. Hosta said fraud is rampant in Medicare and several other government programs.
"This is what really separates me from different people involved in politics," Hosta said. "If we go into these different programs and start managing these programs to cut abuse, you will automatically see a reduction in costs. We need management."
Anderson said fraud in Medicare is no greater than in medical programs that receive no public funding.
"I take issue with the assessment that fraud is rampant," Anderson said. "There is undeniably fraud. We need to be more vigilant in monitoring that and cracking down on it. To some, that is going to sound like increased regulation. We just need to do it."
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Justice, the government has recovered more than $10 billion in fraud, waste and abuse in the last three years alone.
Anderson said Medicare should also have the ability to negotiate drug prices like the Veterans Affairs system already does. That will lower drug costs for seniors, he said.
The winner of the March 18 primary will face incumbent congressman Randy Hultgren, a Republican from Wheaton, in the November general election.