URBANA — The five Democratic candidates for Congress in Illinois’ 13th Congressional District want an improved federal health care program, but they disagree on the degree.
About 200 people attended an Illini Democrats-sponsored forum Tuesday evening between the five contenders for U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis’ seat: Dr. David Gill of Bloomington, Ben Webb of Normal, Betsy Dirksen Londrigan of Springfield, Erik Jones of Edwardsville and Jon Ebel of Urbana. The event was held at a large lecture hall in Noyes Lab on the University of Illinois campus.
It was the first face-to-face meeting between the five contenders who could face each other in the Democratic Party primary next March.
Only two of the five Democrats — Gill and Ebel — said flatly that they favored moving quickly to a single-payer health care system.
Londrigan and Webb said they’d prefer to work to improve the Affordable Care Act.
“I also would like to see us move toward a single-payer system, but the thing I want to look at in the near future is repairing what we have in the Affordable Care Act,” Webb said.
Londrigan said she favored stabilizing the ACA by letting people 55 and older buy into Medicare now, thereby lowering costs throughout the rest of the health care marketplace.
Londrigan also wants to give Medicare the ability to negotiate prescription drug costs.
But Ebel, an associate professor in the UI’s Department of Religion, said that health care “is the moral issue of our time” and said more than stabilizing the ACA is needed.
“I think we all need to ask ourselves the question, what is the acceptable number of babies who can’t see a doctor? What is the acceptable number of families bankrupted by a chronic illness? What is the acceptable number of hospitals that go under because they’re not being paid for the care that they provide? For me that number is zero. And I know that we can get there,” said Ebel. “If all you want to do is hold onto the ACA, which has been a good step in the right direction, your number is significantly higher than zero.”
But, he said, some people still don’t get adeaquate coverage under the ACA.
Gill reiterated his longtime support for a single-payer program.
“The time is long past due, it’s decades overdue, that we have a single-payer health care system in place,” said Gill, an emergency department physician who ran against Davis in 2012 and narrowly lost. “Allowing the insurance companies to continue on in any role with regard to our health care sytem is a failure.
“We’ve seen over the last several months as the Republicans have tried to work their way through repealing and replacing Obamacare that the insurance industry interests are paramount to those who dominate Washington, D.C., right now.”
Jones said “we need universal coverage as soon as possible,” and that the federal government should work to control costs, but didn’t offer specifics.
None of the Democrats said how much their health care programs would cost or how it would be paid for.
The candidates also said they favored reducing the cost of higher education and knocking down student debt, but only Gill said he favored free tuition to public universities.
“I think you should be leaving here with no debt at all. I believe in this country we need tuition free access to public universities, colleges and trade schools,” Gill told the college students in the audience. “And when somebody like Rodney Davis, another corporate owned member of Congress tells you that we can’t afford it, that’s a lie.”
Gill said that the money spent on the Iraq War “would have paid for free college for everybody who wanted it” for 50 to 100 years.
“The money is there. We just need to reorder our priorities,” he said.
Max Weiss, the comunications director of the Illini Democrats, said the candidates’ willingness to make the UI their first joint appearance “says alot about where their priorities are. You don’t see Rodney Davis appearing on campus.”