14th Congressional candidates debate health care choices

 
 
Updated 10/13/2016 8:27 PM
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  • Republican Randy Hultgren, left, and Democrat Jim Walz

    Republican Randy Hultgren, left, and Democrat Jim Walz

In Randy Hultgren's time as the representative for the 14th Congressional District, he's seen constituents wage protests both because he hasn't shown enough support for the Affordable Care Act and because he hasn't abolished it.

Like Hultgren, the Democrat vying to replace him, Jim Walz, would please only one side in the debate.

Hultgren has voted dozens of times to repeal, replace or defund the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. But those votes haven't amounted to much, he said, because the push never gets further than the House.

"What we need is a Senate and a White House that we can work with," Hultgren said. "It's either going to take a new administration or failure. When the last two or three of these providers pull out, we're going to have say, 'Let's learn from this and come up with something that works.' "

In the meantime, Hultgren put forward a partial solution to what he sees as ever-rising premiums and deductibles. His State Health Care Options Act would make it easier for states to opt out of Obamacare if they develop their own, better insurance marketplaces that will accomplish what the Affordable Care Act set out to do. Hultgren believes Illinois can create a marketplace that will bring down costs by creating more competition for Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

"In Illinois, we really only have one provider now," Hultgren said. "It's just not healthy to have only one option. We've seen a lot of the plans out there force people to have coverage they really will never need and don't want. If (the insurance plans) are more tailored to what the specific needs are, the costs are likely to come down."

Hultgren did applaud the Affordable Care Act for helping people who were previously excluded get coverage and allowing young people to remain on their parents' insurance until age 26. But Walz said none of the successes of the Affordable Care Act go far enough. Walz favors universal health care in the form of what Sen. Bernie Sanders described as Medicare for All.

"We are the only industrialized nation in the world that does not offer basic medical care to their citizens," Walz said. "Nobody today should have to decide between paying for a prescription that is ultimately going to take care of them or putting food on the table or a roof over their head."

Walz said major steps toward universal health care include negotiating prices on behalf of Medicare and importing prescription drugs from other countries to cut costs.

"We need to put more money in peoples' pockets," Walz said. "That's what will get the economy churning. A way to do that is to cut the cost of health care."

Walz embraces the health care plan Sanders proposed during his campaign, which would include employers no longer paying toward insurance premiums. Instead, they'd pay a 6.2 percent payroll tax for all employees to help fund the public insurance plan. That cost could get passed along to their employees.

The rest of the money to fund Sanders' plan would come from taxing people earning more than $250,000 a year, including tax rates as high as 52 percent on income more than $10 million. The plan would also see capital gains taxed the same as regular income, limiting tax deductions and increasing the estate tax.

Some studies, including those by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center and the Urban Institute, have found Sanders' plan to be up to $18 trillion short of the funding it would need even with those tax policy changes. Sanders disputes those studies.

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