With three candidates who are cancer survivors, health care issues are personal for several of the seven Democrats hoping to earn their party's nomination to face incumbent Republican Rep. Peter Roskam next November in the 6th Congressional District.
Candidates Amanda Howland, Kelly Mazeski and Becky Anderson Wilkins each told a crowd of 800 at a recent forum in Carol Stream the basics of their cancer survival stories as they explained why affordable health care matters.
6th District boundariesThe 6th U.S. Congressional District of Illinois takes the shape of a "C" and stretches from Naperville to Tower Lakes in parts of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry Counties. The district includes all or parts of the following communities: Algonquin, Barrington, Barrington Hills, Bartlett, Burr Ridge, Carol Stream, Cary, Clarendon Hills, Crystal Lake, Darien, Deer Park, Downers Grove, East Dundee, Elgin, Forest Lake, Fox River Grove, Glen Ellyn, Gilberts, Hawthorn Woods, Hinsdale, Hoffman Estates, Inverness, Kildeer, Lake Barrington, Lake in the Hills, Lakewood, Lake Zurich, Lisle, Lombard, Long Grove, Naperville, North Barrington, Oak Brook, Oakbrook Terrace, Oakwood Hills, Palatine, Port Barrington, Rolling Meadows, South Barrington, Sleepy Hollow, South Elgin, St. Charles, Tower Lakes, Trout Valley, Warrenville, Wayne, West Chicago, West Dundee, Westmont, Wheaton, Willowbrook and Winfield.
Others in the race spoke of using government-supported health care while struggling to find a job or signing up for a plan on the health exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act.
Roskam, the Wheaton Republican these candidates hope to defeat in the general election, voted on May 4 in favor of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. Repeal efforts failed in the Senate..
Roskam said he supports efforts to increase competition in the health insurance market, improve Medicaid funding provided to states and ensure people with pre-existing conditions can access care.
The Democrats lining up to become his opponent say they disagree with his vote to do away with the ACA.
Instead, they support a range of options from fixing and strengthening the act to lowering the Medicare eligibility age to offering Medicare for all to create a universal system.
Here is a look at each Democratic candidate's views on health care.
After losing a kidney to cancer, Howland, 65, of Lake Zurich, said she knows what it's like to confront a major health challenge.
The College of Lake County trustee and civil rights attorney said she wants to push for universal health care, which best can be achieved not by "chipping away little by little," but by taking larger steps, such as lowering the age for Medicare eligibility and considering Medicare for all.
"We need a progressive move that's going to be bold enough to push us forward," Howland said. "If I'm in Washington, I'm pushing for a big move to get us to universal health care."
Diagnosed three years ago with breast cancer, Mazeski, 58, of Barrington Hills, said she remembers wondering where she'd find insurance, how much it would cost and whether she would be able to keep her doctors when she was notified that she and her daughter were being dropped by their insurance company.
"That is something that no one in this room, no American, should ever have to be asking themselves when they're going through one of the scariest, most difficult times of their lives," Mazeski said.
On the day Roskam voted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Mazeski announced her campaign. A chemist who sits on the plan commission in Barrington Hills, Mazeski said she supports Medicare expansion as an option for everyone, not just those 65 and older. She also wants to see the government negotiate to decrease premiums and reduce the cost of care itself.
"What I think we should do as a country is move forward with a Medicare-for-all public option," Mazeski said. "And what that means simply is opening Medicare to everybody, regardless of age."
Becky Anderson Wilkins
After her own journey with breast cancer beginning three years ago -- switching doctors, therapists, even hospitals -- Anderson Wilkins said she was moved to worry for those who do not have quality care, which she called "essential." But the 59-year-old bookseller and Naperville City Council member said it's important to fix the Affordable Care Act before moving toward a universal system. She said fixes should focus on preventive care, lowering premiums and providing better coverage for children.
"People need to have access to good health care," Anderson Wilkins said. "Because when you're throwing your mercy when you're sick on the health care system, prices rise for us all."
Like the oath doctors take to care for their patients, Casten, a 46-year-old scientist and engineer from Downers Grove, said elected officials aiming to improve health care should "first do no harm."
Casten said the U.S. should look to countries such as Germany and Switzerland, which have universal health care, better outcomes and lower costs, as models for improvements. He said he supports universal health care as the most cost-effective option.
"There's just a 'don't be an idiot' issue here," Casten said. "If you want cheaper, better health care, you want universal health care."
Cheney said she gets her own health insurance from the Affordable Care Act exchanges, which she said is important to protect.
Cheney, 56, of Naperville, said her time working as district chief of staff for Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Foster in the 11th District showed her the value constituents place on insurance. She wants to defend the Affordable Care Act against efforts to dismantle it, with moves such as the provision in the Republican tax law that removes the penalty for not buying insurance.
Next steps should include working to bring down costs and preventing insurers from leaving the exchanges.
"Having a public option is the first step in providing some of that stability," Cheney said.
A policy analyst and White House intern under President Barack Obama, Huffman, 31, of Palatine, said he supports a universal health care system.
"I'm in favor of moving toward a single-payer, Medicare-for-all system," Huffman said. "We need to make sure everybody has access to affordable care, and the best way to lower costs is to have a single-payer network."
Under a single-payer network, health services would be offered by private providers, but the cost of those services would be paid by one centralized source, such as the federal government.
Huffman, who said he was on Medicaid for two years when he couldn't find a job after completing his undergraduate degree, said he would support steps toward a single-payer system by defending the Affordable Care Act and pushing to lower the age of Medicare eligibility so more people can have a public option for "a better plan than they have now."
Zordani, a 53-year-old regulatory and financial services attorney from Clarendon Hills, said the Affordable Care Act has succeeded in bringing more Americans onto an insurance plan, but it "missed the mark on affordability."
Still, she described herself as a "strong advocate" for the act and said its flaws are fixable.
Zordani said she wants to lower the Medicare eligibility age to 55 and improve care through the Department of Veterans Affairs to "make sure it works for our veterans."