Both 10th Congressional candidates want to preserve, improve Affordable Care Act

Breaking from her party and President Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for Illinois' 10th Congressional District seat said she doesn't want to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Rather, first-time political hopeful Valerie Ramirez Mukherjee of Northbrook said the controversial health care law - which aimed to make sure all Americans were covered by health insurance - should be preserved and improved upon.

Her Democratic opponent, incumbent Brad Schneider of Deerfield, is an outspoken supporter of the health care law. But he's noted it's flawed and has said it should be amended and expanded.

Ramirez Mukherjee and Schneider discussed health care and other issues in questionnaires for the Daily Herald and in interviews ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

Sometimes dubbed Obamacare because of the president who signed it into law in 2010, the Affordable Care Act overhauled the U.S. health insurance system. It led to millions more Americans' being covered and changed options for people who get insurance individually rather than from employers.

Republicans including Trump have worked to repeal parts or all of the law since it was signed. Some have objected to the tax increases and higher insurance premiums needed to fund it; others say its individual mandate is unconstitutional.

But Ramirez Mukherjee's view is different.

"For a country as wealthy as ours, health care should be a right, not a privilege," said Ramirez Mukherjee, who runs a family investment business. "We (must) ensure that access to quality, affordable health care is available to all Americans, regardless of their vocation or economic circumstances."

Noting the complexity of health care plans and laws, and what she called "runaway drug and medical procedure costs," Ramirez Mukherjee said systemic changes are needed to make sure all Americans have access to care.

"The best way to do so is to preserve and improve the Affordable Care Act," she said.

Ramirez Mukherjee suggested the government regularly update the law, just as technology companies regularly improve their products.

"I see the ACA as version 1.0, which needs to be continually and incrementally tweaked to get us to a point where health care is universally accessible and affordable," she said.

Ramirez Mukherjee said consumers should be allowed to shop around for plans regardless of their home state and insist on portable electronic health records. She also voiced support for virtual health visits and for websites that would allow people to compare prices for procedure and drugs and easily access provider reviews.

Additionally, she said the government could be a reinsurer "of last resort" that helps people dealing with catastrophic conditions.

"Almost all insurance carriers typically use reinsurance coverage to guard against catastrophic events like hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters," she explained. "Government programs can act as a backstop for catastrophic conditions."

Schneider, who's seeking a fourth term in Congress, has defended the Affordable Care Act on the campaign trail and with votes in the House.

Like Ramirez Mukherjee, he said health care is a right and not a privilege "for the fortunate few."

Schneider's a fan of a public health insurance option, but for more than catastrophic cases. He envisions a government-sponsored plan that competes in the marketplace with private insurance.

By giving Americans another choice, a public option would drive down overall costs, Schneider said.

Schneider does not, however, favor a single-payer, government-run insurance plan.

He has noted the Affordable Care Act has problems. For example, he criticized its tax on medical devices and supported efforts to eliminate that tax in 2013. A two-year delay eventually was approved.

But making relatively minor changes like that - what Schneider called "simply tinkering around the edges" - isn't satisfactory, he said.

Schneider has co-sponsored legislation that would let Americans ages 50 to 64 buy into Medicare.

He also backed the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, which would allow the government to negotiate lower prescription prices and would cap Medicare beneficiaries' out-of-pocket spending on prescriptions at $2,000. It passed the House and awaits action in the Senate.

The 10th District includes parts of Cook and Lake counties.

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