Democrats clash on health care and campaign gifts in local congressional debate

Published in the South Bend Tribune: April 11, 2018, Author: Jeff Parrott

See original article here.

ELKHART — In their final debate before the May 8 Primary Election Tuesday night, the three Democrats competing to unseat Republican incumbent Rep. Jackie Walorski found common ground on the environment, campaign finance reform and their disdain for President Donald Trump.

But on the Lerner Theatre stage, a few differences emerged between Pat Hackett, Mel Hall and Yatish Joshi. Declaring health care is a “right” owed to all Americans, Hackett and Joshi called for a “Medicare for all” or single-payer national health care system, while Hall stopped short of that, instead saying the Affordable Care Act can be improved.

Hall said those improvements can come through increased competition among health insurance carriers, durable medical equipment makers and drug companies. He said if elected he might “look at” whether the ACA’s mandate that everyone has insurance could be reinstated.

Joshi, who called Obamacare “the best thing that has happened to America,” said the mandate must be restored because the system’s solvency depends on premiums paid by people who are young and healthy. He said dental and vision care also must be available to all Americans.

Hackett said a single-payer system is feasible, and employers could pay for it through a new payroll tax. As a business owner, Hackett, who runs a law practice, said she would rather pay a bit more in taxes than provide a “very expensive benefit” for employees.

Hall, former CEO of South Bend-based Press Ganey, a health care survey firm, called himself a “relentless pragmatist.” A single-payer system might someday be possible, Hall said, but it would “take a while” to get there.

Hackett, as she did in their first debate March 28 at Indiana University South Bend, said she was the true Democrat in the race, “not a pay-to-play politician or a military contractor with conflicts of interest.” The former was a jab at Hall, whom she said has given $47,500 to Republican candidates and the Republican Party since 2004. The latter was a dig at Joshi, who last election donated money to Walorski’s campaign and owns GTA Containers Inc., a South Bend-based company that supplies water containers to the U.S. military.

On stage, Hall did not refute the allegation but dismissed it as the kind of negative politics that Hoosiers are so tired of from Washington. Afterward, he was asked again to comment on the campaign contributions.

“I’ve been a Democrat my entire life, and I’ve been a Hoosier my entire life,” Hall told a reporter. “I have run this whole campaign by not trying to get involved in cheap political shots or negativity. Our entire focus has been on the issues that affect folks in the 2nd District.”

But in the debate, after Hall made a similar comment, Hackett said his past political contributions are “relevant” and an example of why she would work to reform the campaign finance system if elected.

Hackett clearly brought the most fans to the event, or at least the loudest ones. Her supporters applauded boisterously after her opening and closing statements, notably more so than supporters for Joshi or Hall.

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