Dem U.S. Senate candidates agreed on expanding healthcare coverage for Americans but offered different views on how to achieve that.
The six candidates, during a WisPolitics.com virtual forum yesterday, also showed different approaches to easing the student debt burden.
The election for GOP Sen. Ron Johnson’s seat is next year.
The candidates outlined various health care policy items but at least three candidates fully endorsed “Medicare for All” over other expansions.
Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson said offering Medicare fits with American ideals.
“We’re the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t have this,” he said. “This is something that affects everyone, it goes to the core of who we are, it’s attached to the economy, it’s attached to racial justice; I mean health care should be a human right.”
Dem Sen. Chris Larson, of Milwaukee, said offering every American health care coverage through Medicare is important because “it is a right, it’s not a product.” He also criticized U.S. Johnson for seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act.
Larson said the high cost of health care and lack of coverage for everyone is ridiculous. “It’s ridiculous in a country where we’re spending more on health care than every other country, but it’s still the number one cause of individual bankruptcy,” he said.
The only physician of the group, Dr. Gillian Battino, of Wausau, said a single-payer plan, like “Medicare for All,” would help save Americans about $6 trillion a year.
“We know that we can reduce our costs and cover everyone, we know this,” she said. “So I think the only reason we don’t do it is because lobbyists and dark money are pushing against it.”
Other healthcare ideas included offering a public option under ACA, further expanding Medicaid, or entirely revamping the health care and health insurance systems
Those who argued for creating a public option for the ACA said it would quickly help provide coverage for those who need it.
Alex Lasry, who’s on leave from his position as an executive for the Milwaukee Bucks, said offering a public option “is the quickest and most effective way to ensure that everyone is covered.”
State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski said offering a public option isn’t the only way she would work to ensure everyone has health care coverage. She said she also wants to expand Medicaid and Medicare.
She also called for allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices in order to lower costs.
But Battino argued offering a public option to the ACA is not a great move to improve health care coverage.
The only undeclared candidate participating in the forum, Steven Olikara, founder of the Millennial Action Project, said the healthcare issue needs to be reframed entirely. He said the government needs to work to reduce the cost of prescription drugs and keep overall cost inflation down, adding health care needs to focus more on preventative care.
Olikara also said allowing Medicare to negotiate prices with prescription drug companies would go a long way.
“The only reason why that’s not happening is because of how corrupted our politics are, how much the lobbyists have taken over the health care debate,” he said. “We need to reverse it so that people, ordinary people, are at the center of the health care conversation.”
Those six Dems looking to take Johnson’s Senate seat also showed differences over how to tackle college student debt.
At least two of them, Nelson and Battino, without reservation called for full forgiveness of student debt.
But Olikara said student debt is far too high right now for a myriad of reasons and he would focus on addressing the root causes, but “just a blanket check to every dollar of student debt is unwise right now.”
“That’s not addressing the root problem because then we’re going to have another student debt bubble maybe 10 years from now,” he said.
Nelson, on the other hand, simply said “yes,” he would work to completely eliminate student debt if elected.
Larson, who said he would work to wipe out college debt so people can start from scratch, added he is open to at least some kind of negotiation over how much of that debt is eliminated.
“But you have to address the underlying fundamentals of why the thing costs so much,” he said.
He also said education should be public and available to everybody from kindergarten to 99 years old without putting them in debt. He added those seeking higher education should not have to burden themselves with debt and that education should be paid for by communities.
Battino also said public education should be completely free going forward and Congress should work to forgive all student debt.
“I think it’s an economic stimulus for young people to begin living their lives and investing in our economy and in their futures,” she said. “I think it liberates young people to start small businesses, which are the backbone of our resilient economy.”
Battino also said her plan would help address racial inequities in education.
Godlewski said canceling student debt is “part of the solution, but there’s a lot of other things that we’ve got to look at to make sure college is affordable.”
She also said the issue of lenders offering loans with high interest rates, such as 9 percent, should be addressed because those high rates are hurting the homeownership rate, among other things.
And Lasry said he supports creating a pathway to free university classes and technical college courses.
He said he supports former President Obama’s plan to offer university tuition reimbursement for those who work in public service jobs such as the Peace Corps or the government.
Lasry added it’s important to offer free technical college degrees, too, because he said that would help open up the labor pool and ensure people get the education they want.