6th Cong. Dist.: How candidates want health care to change

 
 
Posted10/8/2018 5:30 AM
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  • Health care is a divisive issue between candidates for U.S. Congress in the 6th District, Republican incumbent Peter Roskam, left, and Democratic challenger Sean Casten.

      Health care is a divisive issue between candidates for U.S. Congress in the 6th District, Republican incumbent Peter Roskam, left, and Democratic challenger Sean Casten. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer July 2018

U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam once said health care is an issue that separates politicians into instant teams of "shirts and skins."

There's no doubt it's that divisive for Roskam, a 12-year incumbent in the 6th U.S. Congressional District, and his opponent, Democratic challenger and political newcomer Sean Casten.

Health care has been a controversial topic in the 6th District since Roskam's vote in May 2017 to "responsibly repeal, replace Obamacare," as his office put it in a news release.

The vote spurred much of the early Democratic opposition the longtime legislator drew in this spring's primary, which included seven candidates and resulted in the nomination of Casten.

But now Roskam, 56, of Wheaton, says the best steps on health care are measures to improve the situation under the Affordable Care Act and fix things people don't like, such as limited insurer choices, rising premiums and forced switches in medical care providers.

His opponent Casten, 46, of Downers Grove, wasn't the strongest health-care-first candidate in the primary. That likely was Kelly Mazeski of Barrington Hills, a breast cancer survivor who said she launched her campaign specifically because of outrage at Roskam's vote to repeal the 2010 health care law.

But Casten prevailed in the primary, and now says he wants to move the country toward universal health care by creating a public option for people to buy into the Medicare system, which typically provides care for those 65 and older.

Rivals Roskam and Casten are competing to represent a widespread, C-shaped district in the Western suburbs, stretching from Naperville to Tower Lakes and including parts of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties.

Roskam says residents of the district in two of these counties -- Lake and McHenry -- suffer the most limited options if they have coverage through the Affordable Care Act. There is only one insurer that provides coverage on the exchange in those regions, he said.

"That's not a choice," Roskam said during an endorsement interview with the Daily Herald. "That's a government slamdown that says, 'You've got to buy from this company, otherwise you're not going to have any coverage at all.'"

Roskam said he's tried to improve health care for consumers by introducing a package of bills that gave more of them the ability to create health savings accounts, which are pretax accounts that can be spent on medical costs.

Roskam described the accounts as providing "the capacity to save money on a tax-free basis" and said they help encourage consumers to make cost-effective decisions, since the money they'll be using is their own.

He also promoted an ongoing effort of the health subcommittee of the House Ways and Means committee, of which he is chairman. He said subcommittee members of both parties have asked health care businesses to identify which rules need to change because they stand in the way of providing better patient service and support.

The effort has received more than 500 suggestions to "try to bring regulatory relief that makes sense to our health care providers," he said.

But Casten wants larger changes, not what Roskam calls "improvements or anything on the edges."

He wants America to move toward a universal health care system, which he said has proved cheaper and more effective in other countries.

"Every single country that has universal health care has better health outcomes than the United States," Casten told the Daily Herald, "and we spend more per capita than any other country."

The Affordable Care Act does not create a universal system, he said, although it is "a lot closer than we were prior."

A next step could be allowing anyone who chooses to buy into Medicare, Casten said.

Because universal health care has proved cheaper, he said, "even if you aren't a moral person, we should be doing it because we're greedy."

If the nation could cut its health care costs by 30 percent, which Casten says would be possible under a "best-in-class" universal care model, the question then becomes how to disperse the savings. He said the average American spends $10,000 a year on health care, in some combination of paycheck deductions, out-of-pocket costs and employer- or government-covered expenses. If that total could be decreased to $7,000, he said that would relieve much pressure on the system.

"The question is total cost," Casten said. "Not who pays."

Health care is expected to remain a hot-button issue in this nationally watched race throughout the rest of the midterm season, which concludes with Election Day on Nov. 6.

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