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Report Highlights Coverage Of Congressional, Gubernatorial Races

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Summaries of recent news about health care issues in congressional and gubernatorial races appear below.

House Races

* Florida: In the 15th Congressional District, physician Stephen Blythe (D), who previously served on a Medicaid advisory council for the governor's office in Colorado, is targeting health care as a campaign issue, the Orlando Sentinel reports. Blythe supports a national health care plan, which he says might not be more than the current cost of caring for the uninsured. Meanwhile, challenger state Sen. Bill Posey (R) said he supports a "cafeteria-style" health plan where families could choose the coverage they could afford (Lelis, Orlando Sentinel, 10/26).

* Missouri: In Missouri's 9th Congressional District, state Rep. Judy Baker (D) said she supports allowing more families buy into SCHIP, permitting Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies and allowing veterans to seek care at facilities near their homes instead of having to travel to veterans' centers (Schlinkmann [1], St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 10/26). Challenger former state Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R) said that he opposes Baker's proposal to expand SCHIP and instead supports allowing small businesses to pool together to qualify for affordable group insurance plans. During his tenure in the state Legislature, Luetkemeyer pushed bills that would have created a special state insurance program for people with high-risk medical conditions and would have allowed the sale of "bare-bones" health policies in the state (Schlinkmann [2], St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 10/26).

* Texas: In the 10th Congressional District, Rep. Michael McCaul (R) and Democratic challenger Larry Joe Doherty "clashed" over health care and other issues on Monday at a meeting with the Houston Chronicle editorial board, the Chronicle reports. McCaul said he opposed legislation earlier this year to renew and expand SCHIP because he said it would have extended benefits to adults and undocumented immigrants. Doherty responded that residents already pay for emergency care of undocumented immigrants through local property taxes. Doherty also said that high health care costs in part are caused by profit-driven decisions made by insurers and that the solution is a single-payer, government-sponsored health care system. McCaul said that such a system would lead to a rationing of care and long wait times for patients. However, Doherty said that many nations with a single-payer system rank much higher than the U.S. in life expectancy and have lower infant mortality rates (Bernstein, Houston Chronicle, 10/27). In the state's 4th Congressional District, Glenn Melancon, a history professor and challenger to incumbent Rep. Ralph Hall (R), said that the U.S. is experiencing a wage and benefits crisis and that the federal government should implement a universal health coverage system that provides affordable group coverage for small businesses and individuals (Langton, Dallas Morning News, 10/27).

* Wyoming: House candidates Cynthia Lummis (R) and Gary Trauner (D) both support elements of Sen. Mike Enzi's (R-Wyo.) "10 Points to Transform Health Care In America" plan, including allowing market-based pooling and equalizing tax treatment of health insurance for all U.S. residents, the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle reports. Trauner said Congress should reduce health coverage expenses on businesses and find market-based solutions to provide all U.S. residents with basic, quality coverage. Lummis supports establishing health savings accounts and interstate insurance pools. Lummis also said people should be able to compare physicians and treatments, which would keep prices down and make people more responsible for their own health (McCarthy, Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, 10/27).

Senate Races

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* Georgia: The Savannah Morning News this week examined the health care positions of Senate candidates Libertarian Allen Buckley, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) and former state Rep. Jim Martin (D). Buckley, a proponent of limited government, opposes any type of universal health care. He believes coverage should be expanded through free-market approaches. He opposes caps on medical fees, insurance premiums and jury awards in malpractice lawsuits; however, he does favor tax breaks for premium payments. Chambliss, along with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), has introduced a bill (S 1019) that would expand coverage and replace an income tax break for employees enrolled in an employer-sponsored health plan with a $2,000 rebate to purchase coverage on the private market, allowing purchase across state lines. Chambliss also supports capping jury awards in malpractice lawsuits. Chambliss said, "Every Georgian should have access to affordable and quality health care. It is unconscionable that some families must choose between medical care and food to meet their family budgets. Washington-run health care is not the answer, but every family and individual deserves to be healthy." Martin, during his time as a state legislator, often supported bills to expand coverage to state residents, and he supports a public-private partnership to expand coverage. He said he believes everyone should have access to affordable care from a physician of their choosing (Jones, Savannah Morning News, 10/26).

* Kansas: Former Rep. Jim Slattery (D), who is running against incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts (R), during a recent health reform forum said universal coverage will not be achieved without an individual mandate, Kansas Health Institute News reports. Although he did not endorse the idea of a government-run health system or opening up Medicare to all U.S. residents, Slattery said that at some point in the future that option might be the most viable. He said expanding SCHIP "is really priority one for me." Slattery also supports allowing people ages 55 and older to buy in to Medicare at "full actuarial cost" (Shields, Kansas Health Institute News, 10/21).

* Louisiana: State Treasurer John Kennedy (R), who is challenging incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), said he supports changing the federal tax code to allow individuals to take greater responsibility in obtaining health coverage and allowing people to purchase coverage across state lines, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. Kennedy has proposed a tax credit of $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 per family that could be used to purchase coverage, but his plan would not eliminate tax breaks companies receive for offering coverage to workers. In addition, Kennedy said he would expand health savings accounts, as well as high-risk insurance pools for people with pre-existing medical conditions who cannot obtain coverage elsewhere. Landrieu supports the Healthy Americans Act (S 334), which would eliminate the employer-sponsored health system and require people to purchase health coverage from a pool of state-regulated private plans. Under Landrieu's approach, subsidies would be offered to residents with incomes less than 400% of the federal poverty level. Businesses initially would redirect the money they spend on workers' health care to increase employee salaries, while those that did not offer coverage would pay a tax. Eventually all businesses would be required to pay the tax (Moller, New Orleans Times-Picayune, 10/28).

Gubernatorial Races

* North Carolina: The Charlotte Observer on Tuesday examined the health care positions of North Carolina's Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates. Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory (R) supports incentives, such as tax credits, to encourage individuals to purchase private insurance. Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue (D) supports expanding government-funded programs, such as SCHIP and Medicaid, to more residents. However, a Perdue spokesperson said that because of the recent economic downturn, any plans to overhaul the state's health care system "may take a more phased-in approach." Both candidates favor tax credits to help small businesses purchase insurance for their employees (Garloch, Charlotte Observer, 10/28).

* North Dakota: State Sen. Tim Mathern (D), who is challenging Gov. John Hoeven (R), has called for increased efforts to identify ways to improve health care, the Fargo Forum reports. As governor, Mathern said he would establish a task force to address problems with health care. A spokesperson for Hoeven's campaign said the governor has outlined a plan to improve programs that provide coverage to children and individuals who have difficulties obtaining insurance, as well as to increase aid for low-income families (Olson, Fargo Forum, 10/28).

* Washington: Incumbent Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) said she would continue giving government a lead role in improving access to health care if re-elected, and Republican challenger Dino Rossi would reduce regulations and rely on the free market to lower costs and expand access, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports. Gregoire has said she would use a combination of state-sponsored insurance, cost-reduction initiatives and public-private partnerships. Her goal is to provide health care access to all state residents by 2012. Rossi said he would to try to reduce state mandates for coverage, but has not identified which mandates he would eliminate (McGann, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 10/26).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.