PA Democrats Are Betting Big That Voters’ Priority Is Health Care

Watched by police, protesters await the arrival of Pennsylvania's US Sen. Pat Toomey outside the studios of WHTM-TV, Wednesday, July 5, 2017 in Harrisburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Marc Levy)

By The Keystone Staff

October 16, 2020

“If there’s a job that the state should do, it is to make sure that every citizen in the state of Pennsylvania has access to quality affordable health care. It’s not any more complicated than that. Access. And it’s quality. And it’s affordable.”

If the novel coronavirus pandemic has shown us anything, it’s shown the value of health care.

“It’s exposed how critical it is that we address some of those issues like equity in education [and] access to affordable health care for everybody,” Democratic state House candidate Emily Skopov told WESA, Pittsburgh’s public radio station, in September. She is running in the 28th House District (Allegheny County). “Because one thing the pandemic has made abundantly clear is how connected we all are.”

Skopov and other Democrats seeking election in key state House districts are concerned about Republican efforts to strike down the Affordable Care Act, and what happens to Pennsylvanians if Republicans succeed.

Many of them have made health care—access and affordability—one of their main platforms throughout this campaign. Meanwhile, some of their Republican opponents have barely addressed the issue in campaign materials and local media reports.

“One of the reasons a person like me would choose to run for state office is to establish the Affordable Care Act on a state level, so that we can guarantee the citizens of Pennsylvania protections for pre-existing conditions, allow people to insure their children up to age 26, and make health care more affordable,” Gary Spillane told The Keystone. He is running in the 144th House District (Bucks County).

“That’s our job on the state level—to protect all of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, should it be challenged, should it disappear, should it be abolished.”

Approximately 1 million Pennsylvanians are able to get health care because of the Affordable Care Act, Gov. Tom Wolf said in a news release Thursday, and they would lose that health care if the law is struck down.

WATCH: Americans With Pre-Existing Conditions Sound Off on the Potential Repeal of the ACA

And if COVID-19 is determined to be a pre-existing condition, even more Pennsylvanians could lose their health care.

Many Democrats seeking election to the state House have committed to doing everything they can to protect Pennsylvanians with pre-existing conditions.

Spillane said the Legislature should make covering people with pre-existing conditions and allowing adult children up to the age of 26 to remain on their parents’ policies conditions of insurance companies being licensed in Pennsylvania.

“I am reminded of a very good Republican governor in the state of New Jersey, Christine Todd Whitman. At the time she was governor, New Jersey insurance companies decided that new moms would no longer be able to stay in the hospital for longer than 12 hours. If they needed to stay longer, it wouldn’t be covered,” Spillane said.

“Gov. Whitman said, ‘Whether I have authority or not, nobody in the insurance business is going to do business in the state of New Jersey if they don’t allow mothers to stay in the hospital for two days because I know what it’s like.’ The insurance companies conceded. That’s leadership.”

Spillane said he believes that if voters, the Legislature, and Wolf reach consensus and “speak with authority and reason,” then the insurance companies “will provide what they should provide anyway.”

Other candidates said the Legislature also needs to demand “sensible” co-pays and deductibles, and cap the price of prescription drugs.

Brittney Rodas, the Democratic candidate for the 105th House District (Dauphin County), noted that Virginia recently capped the co-pay for insulin at $50 per month.

Pennsylvania should be able to do the same for insulin and other necessary medications, she said. “That’s something that’s well past due.”

Spillane agreed: “We would probably all be happy if we were paying the same prices as other people in Europe and other industrialized nations are paying for the same drug.”

RELATED: We Asked Senate Candidates How They Plan to Protect Access to Affordable Health Care

Rodas said the Legislature needs to set regulations to require pharmacy benefit managers to be transparent and accountable.

Pharmacy benefit managers, commonly known as PBMs, help determine what drug a doctor should be prescribing and whether there’s a good generic substitute. But many of those PBMs make deals with pharmaceutical companies, and get kickbacks for recommending those companies’ medications, she said.

Rodas said she would also support legislation introduced by state Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny)—House Bill 2212—that would create a nonpartisan, expert-led Prescription Drug Affordability Board to investigate prescription drug costs and set price limits. Frankel introduced the bill in January, and it has been sitting in the House Health Committee since.

Rodas and other candidates have said they would work to enact legislation to put an end to surprise medical billing.

Skopov wants to “start prioritizing mental health issues with the same seriousness that we do physical health,” she said in a Facebook video in September.

“Why are people so afraid to talk about mental health? Anyone who’s ever struggled with it or watched somebody they know struggle with it understands it can be absolutely as debilitating as physical ailments, also as treatable,” she said. “The more we talk about it, the sooner people get treatment. So let’s make sure that nobody is out of coverage for that, everybody can get the help that they need. Let’s make sure that medications are affordable and accessible. Let’s make sure that people know what their treatment options are.”

Spillane said these are some of the most important actions the Legislature can take.

“If there’s a job that the state should do, it is to make sure that every citizen in the state of Pennsylvania has access to quality affordable health care,” he said. “It’s not any more complicated than that. Access. And it’s quality. And it’s affordable.”


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