Poll after poll continues to show that health care remains a major concern to American voters. That was the case before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, and, if anything, it is more so now. When voters go to the polls this fall, they should consider carefully how their elected officials plan to address this issue.

Despite the Affordable Care Act, medical care remains expensive for all citizens. As a result, many Republicans have called for repeal. Meanwhile some Democrats have called for “Medicare for All,” but are now hesitating because of the price tag.

While universal health care may not be a constitutional right, we believe it is a human right that any moral, compassionate society ought to have. The trick is how to create an affordable system that guarantees access without stifling competition and ongoing scientific advancement. We think amending the Affordable Care Act can create such a system.

As guiding principles, we believe any plan should require a minimal investment on the part of the patient to help limit unnecessary procedures, but at the same time, no patient should be forced into bankruptcy because of medical costs. A high-risk pool may need to be created for patients with conditions that incur unaffordable costs. To encourage competition for private health insurance, we believe that, with such a pool available, no patient should be denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition. Regardless of how the plan is structured, it needs to have a clear path to being immediately fully funded, whether through payments by patients, increased competition among providers or a shift in spending priorities by state or federal governments.

With continued government involvement in health care issues, and with scientific advances, some procedures have come into conflict with individual religious beliefs. Since religious freedom is a constitutional right, we believe no person, church or business should be forced to be involved in any medical procedure that violates their beliefs, whether being indirectly or directly involved in the procedure itself or selling or processing insurance for policies that violate their beliefs. At the same time, any health care plan should prevent individuals, organizations or businesses from imposing on others their religious beliefs regarding such issues of personal choice as abortion, birth and assisted suicide.

The novel coronavirus has presented the nation with an unprecedented challenge. We continue to have faith that a vaccine will be created. Once that happens, we expect a quick return to economic vitality. While many unanswered questions remain, it’s clear that the nation was unprepared for the pandemic. Going forward, we need better reporting standards, transparency and coordination between state health departments. We also need to ensure that we have sufficient equipment and disposable supplies stockpiled for any emergency. After the pandemic ends, a comprehensive analysis should be done that considers direct and indirect health and economic effects of our government’s response. This should include lives lost to COVID as well as suicide, overdose, and other social maladies caused by an economic slowdown.

Sen. Tina Smith, DFLer seeking re-election, said everyone should have access to health care they can afford, no matter who they are or where they live. She said we should protect the gains we have made with the ACA, which reduced the number of people uninsured, and improve on it. Expanding competition for prescription drugs is one way to lower the cost of pharmaceuticals. She would support an option to allow people to buy in to Medicare. Also expanded access to mental health care and dental care is needed.

She was disappointed by the administration’s handling of the COVID pandemic from the beginning. We need a national strategy for contract tracing and testing, she said, and we need to be sure that future vaccines will be distributed equitably and offered at no cost.

Smith said every individual has a right to personal choice, but they should not force their choices on others. A nurse should not be forced to perform abortions, but the woman should not be denied her access to the procedure, she said. A woman’s access to contraception is a central right and needs to be protected.

Efforts to establish a teleconference interview with Smith’s opponent, Republican Jason Lewis, were unsuccessful. The editorial board then offered Lewis an opportunity to respond in writing to the remaining topics. To date no responses have been received.

Lewis has publicly stated he opposes a single-payer, government driven system and wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He has proposed allowing pre-tax dollars for all health care expenses, making association pools for small business, lowering the cost of delivery through new technologies and allowing treatments for chronic conditions to be covered as preventative.

In the 3rd District, U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips said we have more of a sick care system, than a health care system. We are the only developed nation not to guarantee some kind of health care for all, he said. He is not an advocate of a single payer system but would rather see a hybrid of public and private payers. He supports coverage of pre-existing conditions and reducing the cost of health care and medicines. The ACA was a step in the right direction but needs improvement.

His opponent, Republican Kendall Qualls, said the American people have spoken and they want another option than the ACA. He is not a proponent of government-mandated services, favoring the free market, but would support covering pre-existing conditions. He does not favor Medicare for All, but said we need to make sure all people have access to health care. Individuals should pay for part of the costs but there should be a safety net to help those most in need.

The two also differed on the nation’s approach to the COVID pandemic. Phillips said he was dismayed and downright disgusted by the woefully poor execution of a pandemic response from the federal government. The patchwork approach – each state making its own plan – does not work. A national six-week shut down would have been very effective, he said.

Qualls said leaders need to provide clarity, direction and objective information, he said, which we are getting on a national level. However, we are also learning as we go, calling the pandemic a catastrophe that is changing all the time.

Qualls said the federal government should not mandate coverage for such procedures as abortion. If an employer limits coverage because of beliefs, a person can choose not to work there.

Phillips said it is not easy to balance differing beliefs, but he does support religious freedom. We should focus on what we agree upon, he said, such as reducing the demand for abortion by reducing unwanted pregnancies, something both pro-life and pro-choice forces should be able to agree upon.

In the 6th District, incumbent Republican Tom Emmer said all people should have access to health insurance. He does not support socialized medicine such as the system used in Canada. Emmer believes the Affordable Care Act has collapsed and was an honest but wrong way to address health care.

 His opponent, DFLer Tawnja Zahradka, believes health care should be guaranteed and pre-existing conditions should be covered. The ACA should not be abandoned but improved. She also believes employees should adhere to the provisions of the plan provided by an employer and if religious beliefs are an issue, don’t work there. Zahradka said any plan should include a public option and eventually public choice will provide the base for paying for the plan.

Emmer said the federal government has a role in mitigating any pandemic or public health emergency but only in concert with governors of the 50 states. If religious beliefs become entangled in health care issues, Emmer believes the ethics of individuals should be the rule.

Zahradka said the spread of COVID-19 calls for a national plan and we don’t have one. “We deferred to the states and now there is inconsistency and risk.”

Health care and related issues are major topics to Minnesotans. We urge everyone to seek substantive answers from candidates and demand a commitment to address these concerns. — An opinion of the Adams Publishing – East Central Minnesota Editorial Board. Reactions welcome: Send to editorial.board@apgecm.com.

Load comments