A standing-room-only crowd of 14th Congressional District residents angry about the state of health care greeted Ethan Hastert in one of his first public meetings with potential constituents Wednesday.
The mostly gray-haired audience peppered Hastert with tales of insurance nightmares and fears of a government-run program. About the only thing on which they all agreed was that the current system doesn't work for everyone.
Hastert, a Republican vying for the 14th District Congressional seat currently occupied by Democrat Bill Foster, admitted he didn't have all the answers.
But he was very clear on what parts of the plans working through Congress with which he doesn't agree, telling the crowd he is not a fan of a public option for health care insurance.
Instead, he believes the free market, not government, should provide more competition to lower prices and increase the quality of services.
"If we have a public option, that is going to become the (only) option," Hastert said. "They are going to dictate the rates. They are going to set the prices. And they are going to push other people out (of the market)."
However, the government can tweak the free market to spur competition, he said.
Hastert said he wants to see Illinois residents have access to health care plans in Arkansas, Washington state and elsewhere. At the end of the day, he said, private companies simply do a better job of providing health care than the government ever could.
"The main problem for most people without access to health care is a cost issue," Hastert said. "But if the federal government takes over, it's not guaranteed it's going to be less expensive."
However, he added, that doesn't mean everyone doesn't have the right to have access to health care.
"That is the gold standard we would all love to see," Hastert said. "But it doesn't come without a cost."
Cost is another one Hastert's reasons for opposing a public option. The federal government simply can't afford to provide one, he said. The notion that efficiencies and savings created by reform can fuel the program are laughable, he added.
"We're going to cover more people. We're going to provide more services. And it's going to cost us less? It doesn't make sense," Hastert said.
Hastert said he also favors expanding private health savings accounts with the accompanying tax credits to pay for health care and allowing individuals to pool together to seek better rates.
He backs truth in pricing measures for medical services, including giving patients upfront information about the costs of the treatments they choose.
Other noteworthy comments from Hastert Wednesday:
On him having a conflict of interest because his father took money from insurance companies:
"That's my dad. You'd have to ask him about his record of taking money from insurance companies."
Hastert said when he donates money to a person or an organization it's because he believes in them or their cause, not because he expects a favor.
On Medicare becoming insolvent in the near future:
"It's a real problem. It's going to happen. We need to figure out what to do about it. I'm not going to pretend to have the answer."
On having the government hold people accountable for negative lifestyle choices in determining health care costs:
"Do you really want our government telling us what we can and can't eat and whether or not we should get on a StairMaster? The answer is no."
"I am pro-life." He also doesn't favor taxpayer-funded abortions via a public health care option.