MIDWEST: Congressional Candidates’ Health Positions
As Election Day draws near, American Health Line this week takes a look at the health care positions of candidates in several U.S. House and Senate races where health care has played a pivotal role. Today's report examines the Midwest region, detailing the candidates' positions on four issues: a Medicare prescription drug benefit; a patients' bill of rights; the uninsured; and abortion.
In "traditionally liberal Minnesota," former state auditor Mark Dayton (D) is leading incumbent Sen. Rod Grams (R) in the race for Grams' Senate seat. In a recent St. Cloud State University poll, Grams trailed Dayton by 15 points. Another poll by the Minneapolis Star Tribune showed Dayton with a 14-point lead. Health care has been featured in this race, perhaps most prominently in Dayton's bus trips to Canada (Groeneveld, Reuters English News Service, 10/19). The following outlines Dayton's and Grams' stances on other health issues:
- Prescription drugs: Dayton supports a Medicare drug benefit for all seniors and advocates the federal government negotiating lower prices for "all Americans" (www.markdaytonformn.com). Grams also supports a prescription drug benefit under Medicare Part B and has sponsored S. 1535, the Medicare Ensuring Prescription Drugs for Seniors Act, which would act as a "safety net" for those who lack drug coverage (www.grams2000.com).
- Patients' rights: Dayton advocates a "Doctors Decide" approach, in which HMOS and other insurers would be required to cover any procedure a doctor deems necessary for treatment. Under Dayton's approach, patients would have the right to appeal denied treatment to an outside review board, "better access" to specialists and the right to hold HMOs accountable for "their action" (www.markdaytonformn.com). For his part, Grams has supported the 1999 Republican-backed Patients' Bill of Rights Plus Act, S. 300, which he says "protects the unprotected" by ensuring patients have access to emergency rooms. The bill also calls for an external appeals process and for patients to choose a medical specialist without a referral (www.grams2000.com).
- The uninsured: Dayton calls for "immediate health care coverage for all Americans," stating that health care is an "essential need for all Americans." He advocates providing coverage through employer mandates and a single-payer system that would spread the cost among employers, the government and citizens (www.markdaytonformn.com). Grams touts a measure he introduced called the Health Care Accessibility and Equity Act (S. 1274), which would establish: tax deductions for those who buy their own insurance; enhanced medical savings accounts;
enhanced "flexible spending accounts" that allow employees to rollover unused funds into the next year tax free; and
expanded deductibility of long-term care insurance (www.grams2000.com).
- Abortion: Grams opposes abortion and has voted in favor of
banning "partial-birth" abortion, as well as in favor of disallowing overseas military abortions (Issues2000.org). Dayton supports abortion rights (Baden, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 9/24). However, he has said he opposes the partial-birth abortion "unless the life or health of the mother" is at stake (Baden, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 10/16).
In the race for Michigan's U.S. Senate seat Rep. Debbie Stabenow (D) and Sen. Spencer Abraham (R) are locked in a "dead heat" as Election Day draws near. Although "late summer polls" indicated Abraham "would win comfortably," Stabenow has "rallied back," as indicated by an Oct. 28 MSNBC/Zogby poll showing her with a one-point lead over Abraham, 43% to 42%. With a +/- 4.5% margin of error, the "race is a statistical draw." Another poll, released Oct. 27 by the Detroit News, showed Abraham with 39% and Stabenow with 36% (Detroit News, 10/30). Here are the candidates' stances on health care:
- Prescription drugs: Abraham supports the Abraham-McCain Medicare Rx Drug Discount and Security Act (S. 2836), which would pool Medicare's 39 million beneficiaries to secure discounts (www.abraham2000.net). Stabenow also supports using group purchasing power to lower medication costs for seniors and adding a drug benefit under Medicare (www.stabenow2000.net).
- Patients' rights: Abraham supports S. 1344, the bill approved by the Senate that allows patients to use an external appeals process to contest an HMO decision but not to sue their HMOs. In contrast, Stabenow supports the House-passed Norwood-Dingell patients' bill of rights, H.R. 2723, which gives patients the right to sue their HMOs for denying treatment.
- Abortion: Abraham "strongly opposes" abortion rights and has voted to ban "partial-birth" abortions and overseas military abortions, while Stabenow supports abortion rights, voting against a partial-birth abortion ban.
In one of the country's "most hard-fought and closely watched contests," Republican Mike Rogers and Democrat Debbie Byrum are battling for the open seat in Michigan's 8th District, which will be vacated by Stabenow as she runs for Senate (Reuters, 10/29). Recent EPIC/MRA polls have shown Rogers with a 3-point lead over Byrum, but the spread is within the poll's margin of error. Noting the "moderate nature" of the district's voters -- who are recognized as "being willing to cross party lines -- Rogers and Byrum, both state senators, have run "centrist campaigns," despite significant differences on several issues, including abortion (Sherman, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/25). The candidates' positions on health issues are listed below.
- Prescription drugs: The candidates' views "mirror the positions of their parties' presidential candidates" on plans for a Medicare prescription drug provision: Byrum supports channeling the benefit through Medicare while Rogers favors using the private sector.
- Patients' rights: Byrum supports Norwood-Dingell. Rogers, while supporting a patients' bill of rights, opposes the House-passed plan because he believes it would "mostly benefit trial lawyers" (Trowbridge, Detroit News, 10/30).
- The uninsured: Byrum favors expanding the CHIP program to increase the number of children with health coverage (www.byrum2000.com). No information on Rogers' views could be found.
- Abortion: Byrum supports abortion rights, while Rogers is anti-abortion (Associated Press, 9/25).
The heated competition in southern Indiana's "Bloody 8th" District pits incumbent Republican John Hostettler against orthopedic surgeon Paul Perry (D), who has centered his campaign around health issues (Reuters, 10/29). Pushing health care reform, Perry has said he will reduce health care costs. Hostettler, however, claims that increasing government involvement in health care would "stifle private enterprise and lead to poor patient care." The race, full of "mudslinging," has been too close to call, or as political pollster Brian Vargus said, "Nobody's certain about what the hell is going on. It's sort of like the presidential race" (Hefling, Associated Press, 10/26). Here are the candidates' positions on specific health issues:
- Prescription drugs: Perry favors adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, while Hostettler has voted against such coverage (Issues2000.org).
- Patients' rights: Perry supports a "strong patients' bill of rights, one which will restrain the power of the industry and the HMOs and puts the power back ... in the hands of the patients" (www.dr-paulperry.com). Hostettler opposes increasing government involvement in health care, saying it would result in worse treatment (Associated Press, 9/10).
- The uninsured: Hostettler has voted in favor of establishing tax-exempt medical savings accounts (Issues2000.org). No information could be found on Perry's views.
- Abortion: Both candidates oppose abortion (Hefling, Associated Press, 10/26).
The retirement of 11-term Republican Rep. John Porter has "set off a scramble" for Illinois' 10th District. The "fiercely competitive and costly race" matches state Rep. Lauren Beth Gash (D) against Porter's former top aide, Republican Mark Kirk. With analysts calling the race "too close to predict," the Democrats are viewing this contest as one of their "best shots" to pick up a seat in the quest for regaining a House majority (Associated Press, 10/22). The candidates' views on health issues are listed below:
- Prescription drugs: Both Kirk and Gash support adding a prescription drug benefit directly to Medicare. In addition, Gash supports "requiring pharmaceutical companies to offer prescription drugs to seniors at the same discount rates they offer the big insurance companies" (www.laurenbethgash.com). Kirk, however, has suggested that the cost of prescription drugs "isn't a major issue" for constituents of the "upscale" district, where the average household income is $50,355 (Sawyer, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 10/08).
- Patients' rights: Both candidates favor patients' rights legislation, including the ability to sue HMOs (Associated Press, 10/22).
- The uninsured: Gash, who supported the passage of the Illinois' CHIP program as a state representative, "will work to make sure that every child is able to get health insurance" (www.laurenbethgash.com). No information could be found on Kirk's views.
- Abortion: The candidates hold similar views on abortion issues, both supporting abortion rights and opposing late-term abortions except in cases where the life or health of the woman is endangered. However, Kirk opposes federal funding for abortion and favors laws requiring parental notification for minors to obtain abortions. Gash does not support parental notification laws, nor does she oppose federal funding for abortion (Chicago Tribune, 10/31).
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