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Health care debate in 10th falls along party lines
By Mick Zawislak | Daily Herald Staff

Elizabeth Coulson


Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Robert Dold


Dick Green


Arie Friedman


Paul Hamann


Julie Hamos


Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Elliot Richardson


Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Dan Seals


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Published: 12/28/2009 12:12 PM

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Candidates running in the 10th Congressional District primary agree health care should be more affordable and accessible.

How that should happen is another matter, with stances generally holding to party lines.

The three Democrats in the race favor a public option to reduce costs through greater efficiencies. Other measures, such as making medical records electronic and an emphasis on prevention, will provide better care and save money, they say.

The five Republicans fear an unnecessary takeover of the system by the federal government. They favor incremental steps, such as medical malpractice reform and interstate pooling, to reduce costs and eliminate barriers to coverage.

Candidates shared their stances on health care reform with the Daily Herald during interviews and in responses to questionnaires. Two of the five Republican candidates - state Rep. Beth Coulson of Glenview, a physical therapist, and pediatrician Arie Friedman of Highland Park - listed health care among their top three issues in the race to replace incumbent Mark Kirk, who is running for U.S. Senate.

Coulson says 80 percent of citizens say they are happy with their current coverage. Health care policies should protect them while expanding coverage to others, she said. Health care is "a huge driver of the economy, especially in the 10th District," according to Coulson. The 10th covers eastern Lake and northeastern Cook counties.

"There must be incentives to create needed health care jobs, to avoid the long waits and age-based rationing that exists all over the world under government-run systems," she said.

The Democrats' plan sets the stage for a government takeover, according to Friedman, and will create an unwieldy bureaucracy. Eliminating barriers to competition is necessary, he added.

"Market-based solutions, such as (Heath Savings Accounts), should play an important role in any reform," he said.

Kenilworth businessman Bob Dold and Dick Green, an economist from Winnetka, say controlling government spending is a top priority, and they don't want to add to the deficit to reform health care. They favor measures such as portability to lower health insurance costs while making coverage more widely available.

Green noted that reforms wouldn't kick in until 2013 and that the U.S. economic growth has outpaced countries with nationalized health care.

"It's not a crisis, in my opinion, we need to solve right away."

Dold said depriving seniors by cutting Medicare while raising taxes to pay for the plan is unacceptable. Medicare waste and fraud needs to be addressed before $1 trillion is invested in "another inefficient, wasteful government program," he added.

"If there is 20 to 22 percent waste, fraud and abuse let's get that money now. What are we waiting for?" he said.

Paul Hamann, an electrical engineer from Lake Forest, says Medicare and Medicaid programs will become insolvent in a few years. Those situations should be addressed before adding additional programs, he contends. Costs of procedures should be more transparent, allowing consumers to make more informed and efficient choices, he added.

Enacting health care reform ranks among the top issues for the Democratic candidates.

State Rep. Julie Hamos said the reform should be "revenue neutral." Electronic record-sharing will improve care and lower costs, said Hamos, who helped establish a new state Web site that provides comparisons for medical centers and other information. That type of information promotes higher quality and lowers costs, she said.

"Insurers will be forced to end harmful practices such as charging extraordinary premiums or denying coverage outright for pre-existing conditions," she said. Insurers also will be forced to innovate and improve coverage options while keeping costs in check, she said.

She said a health reform bill won't be perfect and will have to be assessed and fine-tuned for years to come.

Seals said average family costs will nearly double if nothing is done about health care.

He said he would like to see a stronger public option to include more preventive and chronic care and greater competition, which would lower costs.

"It would allow people to stop using the emergency room as their primary care provider and start seeing a doctor before their conditions become expensive," he said. "A public plan offers more robust competition because it has less overhead and inefficiency than a typical private sector plan."

While he does not list health care reform as a specific priority, Highland Park attorney Elliot Richardson considers health care reform a key to rebuilding the economy.

Insurance companies should be banned from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions, he said, and small businesses also should be allowed to purchase insurance as a pool at an affordable rate.

Tax credits and subsidies must be provided to small businesses and individuals to ensure their premiums and out-of-pocket costs don't increase.

"Right now, there is no competition for smaller businesses," he said.