This story is the first of a two-part series on how the candidates in the congressional races differ on health care.
HELENA – Democratic U.S. House candidate Kathleen Williams says health care is the issue she hears most about on the campaign trail – and she has a detailed plan she believes will create more affordable coverage for many Montanans facing high premiums.
“There are some pretty heart-wrenching stories about health care out there,” she told MTN News in a recent interview. “Especially the people that are on the individual market.”
Health-care reform also offers voters a stark contrast between Williams and the man she’s challenging this election: Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte.
Gianforte, who’s running for a second term, says Republicans in Congress have “made progress” by chipping away at the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), and giving consumers more health-care coverage options that are less regulated.
“What we can’t do is go to a government-run, one-size-fits-all (health system), because it will bankrupt our country,” he says. “I believe we should be moving to more options for consumers, peeling back this Obamacare that’s driven up premiums and benefits down.”
Williams, a former state legislator from Bozeman, says what’s left of Obamacare should remain, because it still helps provide affordable coverage to tens of thousands of Montanans and protects people who have pre-existing health conditions.
She also is not proposing a government-run “Medicare for all” solution.
Williams says people aged 55-64 should be able to buy into Medicare, the federal taxpayer-supported insurance program for people 65 and older.
They’d pay their cost, so it wouldn’t require additional tax dollars, she says. Removing these people from the individual market also likely would lower the cost for younger, healthier people still in the market, Williams adds.
She also wants Congress to resume some payments that had been used to reduce the cost for insurers offering individual health plans, and permanently fund the Children’s Health Insurance Plan and grants to community health centers.
And, finally, Williams says drug prices could be lowered by nearly 50 percent if Medicare is allowed to directly bargain with drug manufacturers on the price of prescription drugs.
“(Gianforte) used to talk about repeal and replace, but there’s just nothing coming forward to replace,” Williams says. “This piecemeal way of doing it is creating both uncertainty, and there’s a projection that tens of thousands of Montanans would lose their health care. … I think we need to fix the system, not just pick it apart, bone by bone.”
Gianforte says he’s glad that Congress repealed the mandate in Obamacare that all people must buy health insurance, or pay a tax penalty.
Removing some other Obamacare regulations has given consumers more health-insurance options, he says, like “association plans,” which allow businesses to pool together to offer coverage to employees.
Republicans also are expanding the ability of Americans to use health savings accounts, which can accumulate tax-free, to pay medical bills, Gianforte says.
On prescription drugs, Gianforte says the pharmaceutical industry has been “price-gouging” consumers, but he hasn’t come out with any detailed proposals to address the problem.
He most often refers to his support of a plan announced this spring by President Trump, that promotes generic drugs and requires manufacturers to publish list prices for drugs in TV ads. But it does not allow Medicare to negotiate prices directly with manufacturers.
Libertarian Elinor Swanson says until federal programs such as Medicaid and Medicare are made financially solvent, they should not be expanded.
Next: Where the U.S. Senate candidates stand on health-care reform.