Healthcare Contrast Looms Large in Nebraska's 2nd District Race

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September 27, 2018 - 6:45am

Americans spend more money on healthcare per capita than any other country in the world and the gap between the U.S. and other countries has widened in the last four decades. As part of our Campaign Connection 2018 coverage, we look at one topic that distinctly separates the two contenders in the race for Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District: healthcare policy. We take a look at the two candidates: Don Bacon and Kara Eastman.

In the race for Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes Douglas and Sarpy Counties, Democratic challenger Kara Eastman faces incumbent Republican Don Bacon. The two contrast on several issues including one both say is number one on the campaign trail: healthcare.

"Well when it comes to healthcare right now I believe that we are in a bit of a crisis," Eastman said.

Eastman says a couple years ago, when her mom had her cancer recur for the fifth time, she was prescribed medicine that cost $2,500 for a single pill. Her mom couldn’t afford it, so she didn’t buy it. She passed away in 2016. Eastman says her mother wasn’t alone in having to decide whether or not to purchase expensive medicine. 

"What's happening is people are foregoing medication like my mom had to because they simply can't afford it," Eastman said.

Eastman says she supports Medicare for all, a plan championed by Senator Bernie Sanders. Under such a single-payer system, the government serves as the insurer, with taxpayers paying the premiums. Eastman says the system is fair and would help many Americans in need.

Bacon says Medicare for all is not the answer.

"Americans are used to choice and want more options," Bacon said. "I just think people have different needs and desires out there – not a one size fits all approach works – but a government takeover health care is a one size fits all (and) I don't think it's American."

Bacon says with the change, the shift of focus goes from the doctor-patient relationship to a purely business approach.

"Instead of having a patient, a doctor being the focus of your care – it becomes an accountant and becomes ‘what can the government afford?,'" Bacon said.

Bacon says he’s heard firsthand from people who’ve experienced single-payer healthcare.

"I just met two Canadians at OctoberFest here in Omaha. They both were like ‘we do like the fact that we don’t have to worry about it – our taxes are already paid for – but the service there is terrible. We come to America to get better service and they treat you like real people,'" Bacon said.

Those taxes are paying for the healthcare premiums, so citizens don’t have to do that directly.

According to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Commonwealth Fund Survey for 2016, 18 percent of Canadians waited for more than four months to get elective surgeries, compared to three percent of Americans. The report also shows 29 percent of Canadians – and 11 percent of Americans – waited longer than four hours the last time they went to the emergency room. Bacon says these are the figures that aren’t brought up when Medicare for all is talked about.

Bacon says the rise in people on Medicaid and Medicare has increased dramatically over the last 20 years and with it, so has federal spending. And he says Medicare for all would accelerate that dramatically.

"America pays 38 cents of every dollar goes to government – whether it's federal, state, local, county or schools," Bacon said. "If we have a single-payer government takeover of health care, it goes up to 57 cents on every dollar that this country earns goes to government."

A recent study by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University showed the costs of Medicare for all would be more than $32 trillion dollars over ten years – but that would actually save the government $2 trillion over that span, according to the study. However, the figures in the report have been called into question and the Congressional Budget Office has refused to give an estimate for the costs of the system. Eastman says the healthcare debate has long been a contentious issue, but the $2 trillion in savings over 10 years is real and hits home for many people.

"These are things that are affecting people in our community, in our district, and around the country," Eastman said. "We need to address this because in the wealthiest country in the world we can afford to provide adequate healthcare for people and we need to be forcing large companies – large drug companies – to negotiate prices and use the collective bargaining power of the United States government to do that."

Eastman says with Medicare for all, there is a potential cost savings for Americans not having to spend additional money on medicine and healthcare.

Bacon says while he doesn’t support single-payer healthcare, he does want to see farmers and small businesses band together across the state in association pools. He also says he wants more generic drugs available for people. He says he understands the hurt Americans are feeling when it comes to the high cost of healthcare.

"But there’s 30 percent who are struggling," Bacon said. "A lot of those come from those folks who are on the individual market, like our farmers, our real estate agents, small businesses. They’re paying $30,000 a year – it’s unaffordable. So I support changing the pool structure that would lower premiums by 20-30 percent and we have to protect preexisting conditions."

While the candidates understand they are polar opposites on healthcare policy, they agree that Americans are facing high prices for many health services compared to other nations around the world.



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