Congressional Candidates Speak Out on Health Policy Issues
October 31, 2011 -- With a special election a week away, the candidates for the First Congressional District are campaigning non-stop.
The Lund Report spoke with the three Democratic candidates – Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, Sen. Suzanne Bonamci (D-Beaverton) and Rep. Brad Witt (D-Clatskanie). The leading Republican contender Rob Cornilles, a Tualatin businessman, declined to be interviewed.
None of the Democratic candidates support cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, and they all believe there are more effective ways to reduce healthcare costs.
Bonamici says Congress needs to look at the tax breaks given to the wealthiest Americans, invest in more preventative care, and strive harder to cut fraud.
She, along with Avakian and Witt, favors President Obama’s proposal to spend $1.79 billion to strengthen community clinics. That’s a “more efficient and cost effective way” of providing healthcare, Bonamici said.
Community clinics make healthcare available “where people live,” said Witt, adding, “We spend more of our GNP (on healthcare) than any other nation, yet we don’t have comparable levels of health outcomes.”
Talking about reducing costs has Avakian convinced that Obama should renegotiate the prescription drug deal that President George W. Bush made with the drug industry. Known as The Medicare Drug Improvement and Modernization and Act of 2003, the act prohibits the federal government from negotiating with drug companies and imposing a formulary.
Meanwhile, Republicans have been circulating a proposal to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 69; an issue that all three Democratic candidates strongly oppose.
“The sooner we can provide healthcare to seniors, the sooner we will have a healthier population,” Witt said.
“Do that, and an entire generation that has paid into these plans throughout their lives” will have their financial security put at risk, Avakian said.
All three oppose House Speaker John Boehner’s plan to turn Medicaid into state block grants. “We need to make the tax system more fair,” Bonamici said.
This is “an attempt by Republican leadership to deny healthcare” to an increasing number of Americans” Witt said.
The candidates also favor the Affordable Care Act, with Bonamici supporting the public option. “The Affordable Health Care Act is a first step to make sure more people have access to healthcare,” she said.
“It’s a small step, but not enough,” Avakian said.
When it comes to tort reform, the candidates believe injured people should have the ability to seek damages. “Let’s hold insurance companies accountable” for rising costs, Avakian said. “Tort reform is not the tool we need.”
The looming shortage of physicians – particularly those who deal with primary care – is another deep concern, and Bonamici suggested that Congress provide financial help to physician graduates who agree to work in underserved communities.
And, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, with more troops coming home – the candidates also believe more funding should be allotted to improve veteran healthcare.
Witt, who cited his experience as co-chair of the Oregon House Veterans Committee, said, “Head trauma injuries are increasing……which are very expensive” to treat. “In this day and age, we’re all potentially just one step away from financial collapse if we don’t have access to decent, affordable healthcare. We owe it to our country to make sure everyone has access.”
Photo courtesy of the Oregonian. Pictured from left to right: Rep. Brad Witt (D-Clatskanie), Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries commissioner Brad Avakian, and Sen. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Beaverton).