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An incumbent U.S. representative serving the northwest suburbs said he’s in favor of an incremental approach toward universal health care, while his Republican opponent supported a plan to limit the federal government’s role in guaranteeing health care and to give families more choice.
Jeanne Ives, a Republican from Wheaton who nearly defeated then-Gov. Bruce Rauner in his bid for
reelection, is running to unseat U.S. Rep. Sean Casten, D-Downers Grove, in Illinois’ 6th Congressional District, which spans from Crystal Lake to Hawthorn Woods in the north down to St. Charles and Naperville.
The economic recession caused by COVID-19 has left an estimated 5.4 million more Americans without health insurance, the biggest jump in that number ever recorded, according to a recent study by consumer advocacy group Families USA. In Illinois, 13% of adults between the ages of 18 and 65 were reported as being uninsured as of May.
Low-income Americans, minorities and those with preexisting conditions were more likely to lack health insurance to begin with, so the recession has hit people where those groups overlap especially hard, Casten said.
“We are seeing this massively disproportionate burden on minorities because we have put them in low-income communities, because we have relegated them to jobs and opportunities that are less likely to provide generous health care,” he said.
Jeanne Ives declined to be interviewed by the Northwest Herald for this article. Initially, Ives agreed to provide written responses to questions regarding her thoughts on health care but later declined to do that as well.
The Ives approach
Ives’ campaign website contains only a brief statement on health care.
“I will protect people with preexisting conditions, preexisting doctors and preexisting health insurance,” according to the website. “You get covered in a way that meets your family’s needs. And you call the shots.”
Up until the beginning of July, Ives had a more detailed health care statement on her campaign website in which she expressed her support for a plan proposed by the Republican Study Committee in October of last year.
The Ives-backed plan was proposed as a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, relaxing some federal protections for people with pre-existing conditions and instead tasking states with helping those with expensive plans cover the cost.
With the help of federal funding, state governments would be asked to design and operate their own high-risk pools, which the Republican Study Committee plan refers to as Guaranteed Coverage Pools.
States could opt for a more traditional high-risk pool model or other types of state-based reinsurance programs. Under this plan, the federal government would not be obligated to make a Guaranteed Coverage Pool available to citizens if their state chose not to set one up.
Before the Affordable Care Act, 35 states used high-risk pools to provide health insurance to individuals who had been unsuccessful in finding an affordable private health insurance plan because of preexisting conditions, according to the National Health Council.
The National Health Council, which counts patient advocacy groups, medical companies and health insurance providers among its members, said high-risk pools had “very limited success” in getting health care coverage to everyone with preexisting conditions. It also described them as “often underfunded, expensive and featured limited plan choices with less robust benefits.”
The Republican Study Committee’s plan also proposed the expansion of health savings accounts, in terms of both what could be paid for tax-free and how much individuals and families could set aside, and more protections for people moving from employer-provided health care to the individual insurance market.
Ives said the plan was “the best health care proposal [she has] ever read,” adding that she “could not have written a better plan.”
The plan also called for the rollback of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, proposing that those dollars go instead to state-administrated plans to help low-income individuals afford health insurance.
The Casten approach
The Republican Study Committee’s proposal is more of a tax plan than a health care plan, Casten said.
“Using health savings accounts and tax-deferred income as a way to fix the health care system is basically a way to lower the taxes paid by wealthy people,” Casten said. “It is not a way to expand health care access or portability.”
A newly proposed bill backed by Casten seeks to reform health care policy within the existing framework of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, with the goal of lowering health insurance costs and expanding coverage, according to a fact sheet on the plan.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act suggests reducing the amount of money spent on health care and reallocating some of those funds to provide incentives to states to expand their Medicaid programs, Casten said. The plan also would incentivize more primary care physicians to accept Medicaid, allowing Medicaid recipients to have access to more top-rated doctors.
One way the plan would save taxpayers money is by giving Medicare the ability to negotiate with pharmaceutical manufacturers in order to lower prescription drug prices, he said.
That way, “every one of us is wealthier because the cost of Medicare goes down, the drug prices fall and a whole bunch of private insurers index their price to the Medicare price,” Casten said. “That’s hundreds of billions of dollars a year that we save.”
The legislation would require states to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program to cover new mothers for one year after the birth of their child, according to the fact sheet.
The plan also seeks to strengthen protections for people with preexisting conditions by reversing the expansion and permittance of limited health care plans that don’t cover certain medications or treatments, according to the summary.
Casten said it is critical that the U.S. is able to provide good quality universal health care to its citizens, but how the country should go about meeting that goal is where he feels there is more room for discussion.
He pushed back against the assertion that universal health care is expensive or a drain on resources.
“If you don’t have universal health care, you end up paying massively more for health care in the system because you still provide health care, it’s just that, instead of going in to get regular checkups, you go to the emergency room when all your systems are breaking down,” he said. “And that, for obvious reasons, is a lot more expensive to treat, and that burden gets paid by society.”