Image via Shutterstock
Image via Shutterstock

The Keystone asked candidates running for a seat in the state Senate how they plan to protect or help expand access to affordable health coverage.

With the general election approaching quickly, it’s important to know how candidates differ on issues like health care that affect everyone in the state.

Right now, expanding access to affordable health care for all Pennsylvanians has never been more crucial. More than 135,000 people in the state have contracted the coronavirus, and 7,732 Pennsylvanians have died due to COVID-19. 

If President Donald Trump and Republicans have their way and repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more than 850,000 Pennsylvanians would lose their health coverage. Those numbers are likely higher now, as more than 1.1 million newly uninsured Pennsylvanians have become eligible for coverage via the ACA or the state’s expanded Medicaid program during the coronavirus pandemic.

Pennsylvania’s GOP-controlled General Assembly, however, has failed to advance legislation that would protect ACA provisions in state law—including keeping young adults on their parents’ health policies until they’re 26 and banning the denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

To find out where the candidates vying for a seat or another term in the state Senate stand on health care, The Keystone reached out for a statement on how they plan to protect or help expand access to affordable health coverage. Where possible, we’ve included the candidate’s direct responses, information from their campaign websites, voting history, and social media postings to offer Pennsylvanians a better idea of how they might tackle this important issue.

District 9 (Parts of Chester and Delaware Counties)

Thomas Killion, Republican Incumbent: Sen. Killion did not respond to The Keystone’s request for comment. In 2019, Killion introduced Senate Bill 847, which would have expanded telemedicine across the state by requiring insurers to provide coverage as they would in-person health care. (After the bill was amended to exclude medication abortion, Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed the bill in April.) 

John Kane, Democratic Challenger: Kane did not respond to The Keystone’s request for comment. As a cancer survivor, he fully supports affordable health care and medication for all, according to his campaign website. “If it weren’t for my health insurance, there’s no doubt that diagnosis would have bankrupted my family,” he states on his website. “Even more, without my health insurance, I’d be dead. We need someone willing to fight like their life depends on it, because for so many, their life really does.”

District 11 (Part of Berks County)

Judy Schwank, DemocraticIncumbent: Sen. Schwank did not respond to The Keystone’s request for comment. She has been known, however, to host “Get Covered” events to help constituents sign up for health coverage during the ACA’s enrollment period. She is also a co-sponsor of the Community-Based Health Care Act, which would offer more support to healthcare centers that target underserved populations.  

Annette Baker, Republican Challenger: Baker did not respond to The Keystone’s request for comment. Among her three main healthcare goals, Baker supports the use of health savings accounts “or some other system” as a way to reduce costs in Pennsylvania, according to her campaign website.

District 13 (Part of Lancaster County)

Scott Martin, Republican Incumbent: Sen. Martin did not respond to The Keystone’s request for comment. He sponsored a bill to promote the use of telemedicine, which would improve access to health care in rural areas, but the bill was later amended to include a measure that would have reduced access to medical abortion for rural Pennsylvanians and ultimately vetoed by Gov. Wolf. Martin also voted to implement Medicaid work requirements for Pennsylvanians who rely on the program for insurance coverage, and supported taking away a cash assistance program for disabled adults and survivors of domestic abuse.

Janet Diaz, Democratic Challenger: According to her campaign website, Diaz is working on a plan to help people in Pennsylvania who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but can’t afford private insurance. To keep medical costs low, she wants to cap the price of prescription drugs and end surprise hospital billing.

District 15 (Parts of Dauphin and Perry Counties)

John DiSanto, Republican Incumbent: Sen. DiSanto’s campaign supports pro-life legislation that “protects the rights of the unborn,” and voted to prohibit doctors from prescribing an FDA-approved abortion medication. He did support increasing access to telemedicine throughout the state.

George Scott, Democratic Challenger: If elected, Scott’s campaign promises to ensure that “quality health care is affordable and accessible for all Pennsylvanians.” He promises to protect people with pre-existing conditions and reduce the cost of prescription medications.

“In the wealthiest nation on earth,” Scott told The Keystone via email, “no one should have to choose between paying their medical bills and paying for their mortgage, rent, or utilities. No one should have to skip treatment in order to afford groceries. And no one should have to cut their pills in half in order to make ends meet.”

District 17 (Parts of Delaware and Montgomery Counties)

Eileen Fisher, Republican Challenger: Fisher, a board member of the Haverford Township School District Education Foundation, promises to work to reduce healthcare costs and increase access. Her plan involves increasing telemedicine as well as free-market competition for insurance sales, which can often be a euphemism for allowing insurance plans that don’t offer comprehensive coverage. Fisher did not respond to Keystone’s request for more information.

Amanda Cappelletti, Democratic Challenger: Cappelletti’s campaign says she wants to protect basic safeguards of the Affordable Care Act, regardless of what happens in Washington. She believes health care should never bankrupt an individual. Cappelletti did not respond to a request for comment.

District 19 (Part of Chester County)

Carolyn Comitta, Democratic Challenger: During her time as a state representative, Comitta co-sponsored a bill to enshrine the 10 essential health benefits currently guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act into law. Those benefits include emergency services, maternity and newborn care, prescription drug coverage, and pediatric services. She also co-sponsored legislation to expand access to home care services for seniors living at home. Comitta has also co-sponsored bills to require schools provide dental care and teach students about mental health. She has earned endorsements from both the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals and the Service Employees International Union. 

Kevin Runey, Republican Challenger: Runey, currently the Township Supervisor in London Grove Township, has spent the last 17 years working in “Healthcare Operations and Sales with a focus on improving surgical outcomes,” according to his campaign website. Runey’s website makes no mention of any healthcare agenda, but he has been consistently opposed to the state’s shutdown measures implemented to address the coronavirus crisis. 

District 21 (Clarion, Forest, Venango, and Parts of Butler and Warren Counties)

Scott Hutchinson, Republican Incumbent: During his time in the state legislature, Hutchinson voted to implement work requirements for people who receive insurance through Medicaid, voted against expanding healthcare, and voted against legalizing medical marijuana. More recently, he joined in a unanimous vote in the state Senate to approve creating a mental health wellness and stress management program for first responders.

Shelbie Stromyer, Democratic Challenger: Stromyer has been a registered nurse for 31 years and previously advocated for improving patient care and safety in hospitals and care facilities. She also supports thinking outside the box to help expand health care coverage in Pennsylvania.

“I fully understand the need for healthcare in PA,” Stromyer told The Keystone. “First and foremost PA will be needing capital. I fully back the legalization of marijuana and hemp. I have seen the brick and mortar facilities out west and as a nurse, I know the benefits for those without health insurance. The revenues can be put to health coverage for the low-income working class.” 

District 23 (Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan, Union and Parts of Susquehanna Counties)

Gene Yaw, Republican Incumbent: In 2019, Sen. Yaw co-sponsored a bill to promote the use of telemedicine, which would improve access to health care in rural areas. But the bill was later amended to restrict access to abortion and was ultimately vetoed. Yaw has also voted to implement Medicaid work requirements for Pennsylvanians who rely on the program for insurance coverage.

Jackie Baker, Democratic Challenger: A born-and-raised Pennsylvaniana and long-time educator, Baker says she wants to make it easier to access medical and mental health care. According to her campaign website, she wants to save struggling rural hospitals and make medicine more affordable by defending Pennsylvania families from “greedy” pharmaceutical companies.  She also counts herself as a strong supporter of women’s reproductive rights, including making birth control more affordable and accessible.

District 25 (Cameron, Clinton, Elk, Jefferson, Mckean, Potter, Tioga, and Parts of Clearfield Counties)

Margie Brown, Democratic Challenger: A former public school teacher and journalist, Brown is focused on healthcare reform and wants to expand healthcare access by adding more physical locations to obtain care and increasing access to telehealth services. “Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be healthier. This requires removing obstacles to health such as poverty, discrimination, and lack of internet access for quality telehealth services,” her website reads. Brown did not respond to a request for more information.

Cris Dush, Republican Challenger: State Rep. Dush did not respond to a request for information about his healthcare agenda if he were to win a seat in the state Senate. As early as April, however, Dush was pushing to terminate Gov. Wolf’s emergency disaster declaration related to the coronavirus pandemic, even as the state was overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases. Dush has continued to do so throughout the pandemic, arguing that Wolf’s coronavirus restrictions represented an “unchecked abuse of emergency powers.” 

Prior to the pandemic, Dush co-sponsored a bill to increase transparency of prescription drug costs, but also voted to implement work requirements for people who rely on Medicaid for health insurance and has repeatedly voted to limit women’s access to abortion.

District 27 (Columbia, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder, and Parts of Luzerne Counties)

John Gordner, Republican Incumbent: Gordoner, who has been in office since 2003, has voted to authorize medical marijuana and improve prescription drug transparency. He has also voted to require people who qualify for Medicaid prove to the government that they are doing enough to find work and to limit abortion access. Gordner did not respond to Keystone’s request for information.

Michelle Siegel, Democratic Challenger: Siegel, who has chronic health issues herself and has received coverage through Medicaid, supports universal health care and said she would co-sponsor legislation to achieve that.

“I believe a single-payer system is the only way to fix our healthcare issues. When I was placed on Medicaid, everything was always covered. There was no declines or huge bills,” Siegel said. “Whatever the doctors wanted for me, is what I received. I have seen first hand how much better that type of system is and I will work hard as an advocate, cosponsor any single payer bill, and fight for a single payer system here in the Commonwealth.”

District 31 (Parts of Cumberland and York Counties)

Mike Regan, Republican Incumbent: Regan did not respond to a request for more information. During his time in the state Senate, however, Regan has voted to implement Medicaid work requirements and repeal a program that helps adults with disabilities, drug dependent individuals, and those fleeing domestic abuse. He also voted to improve prescription drug price transparency and to allow terminally ill patients to use experimental treatments. Regan has repeatedly voted to limit abortion access, and in 2013 voted to pass a law that banned health insurance offered through the health insurance exchange from including coverage for abortions.

Shanna Danielson, Democratic Challenger: Danielson, who says she grew up without regular health insurance, supports universal health care and wants to expand income limits for Medicaid to allow more Pennsylvania families to qualify. She also wants to treat addiction as a “healthcare crisis” and not a criminal justice problem, according to her campaign website. Danielson also supports defending a woman’s right to make her own healthcare choices.

District 33 (Adams County and Parts of Cumberland, Franklin, and York Counties)

Doug Mastriano, Republican Incumbent: Sen. Mastriano did not respond to a request for comment from The Keystone.. According to his campaign website, opposing abortion will remain a top priority if he is re-elected. He also supported promoting telemedicine services and voted in favor of repealing a cash assistance program for adults with disabilities, individuals dependent on drugs, and domestic abuse survivors.

Richard Sterner, Democratic Challenger: Sterner has several health policy goals on his campaign website, including improving health care in response to COVID-19 and ensuring coverage “is not dependent on job security” or whether one has a pre-existing condition. 

“Health care should not be a privilege in the richest country in the world,” he told The Keystone.  “Health care should be a RIGHT. It should not depend on whether or not I have a job either.”

District 35 (Bedford, Cambria and Parts of Clearfield County)

Wayne Langerholc Jr., Republican Incumbent: Sen. Langerholc did not respond to a request for comment on his stance on access to affordable health care. He did, however, vote in favor of expanding the regulation of telemedicine—that bill was later vetoed by the governor after House Republicans inserted an amendment that limited abortion access. He also voted in favor of repealing a cash assistance program for adults with disabilities, individuals dependent on drugs, and domestic abuse survivors, and for requiring people on Medicaid prove to the government that they are working or looking for a job. (Gov. Wolf vetoed the bill.)

Shaun Dougherty, Democratic Challenger: Dougherty, who did not respond to Keystone’s query, is an advocate for survivors of child sex abuse. His campaign website does not explicitly share where he stands on affordable health care, but he has raised concerns about addressing the mental health crisis and the opioid epidemic.

District 37 (Parts of Allegheny and Washington Counties)

Pam Iovino, Democratic Incumbent: Sen. Iovino, who did not respond to The Keystone’s request for comment, has championed protecting the most important features of the Affordable Care Act in Pennsylvania. That includes “protections for pre-existing conditions and mandating coverage for essential health benefits at the state level.” She also supports capping co-pays for prescription insulin drugs at $100 per one-month supply of insulin.

Devlin Robinson, Republican Challenger: It is unclear where Robinson, who also did not respond to Keystone’s request for more information, stands on health care. His campaign website states he is committed to “promoting better schools, good-paying jobs, and our way of life.” 

District 39 (Parts of Westmoreland County)

Kim Ward, Republican Incumbent: Sen. Ward did not respond to The Keystone’s request for comment. She did introduce a bill in 2019 to expand access to telemedicine, but that bill was vetoed by the governor after House Republicans inserted an amendment that limited abortion access. She also voted in favor of repealing a cash assistance program for adults with disabilities, individuals dependent on drugs, and domestic abuse survivors.

Tay Waltenbaugh, Democratic Challenger: Waltenbaugh also did not respond to The Keystone’s query. According to his campaign website, “there are actions that can be employed to protect the integrity, availability and affordability of health care delivery.” But he “does not support free, ‘Medicare for All’ proposals. Individuals have a personal responsibility to secure appropriate health care coverage. But, the state should maintain an unwavering commitment to ensure plans are available, affordable, and when necessary, financially supported to those in need of assistance.”

District 45 (Parts of Allegheny and Westmoreland Counties)

James Brewster, Democratic Incumbent: Sen. Brewster’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on his stance on health care. He has in the past, however, reminded his constituents about the ACA’s open enrollment period. “Taking a moment of time to explore the insurance marketplace to find the right insurance plan for your family is a good investment,” Brewster said in 2017. “Health insurance provides life-saving access to care and saves individuals and families money when they face medical issues.” 

Nicole Ziccarelli, Republican Challenger: According to Ziccarelli’s campaign site, her priorities if elected include government reform and rebuilding the economy, among other things. She does support lowering healthcare costs for seniors and is a “staunch pro-life advocate who believes that all life is sacred and should be protected.” 

District 47 (Lawrence and Parts of Beaver and Butler Counties)

Elder Vogel, Republican Incumbent: Sen. Vogel’s campaign—who did not respond to Keystone’s request for comment—does not have much information about his stance on health care. He did introduce a bill in 2019 to expand access to telemedicine, but that bill was vetoed by the governor after the House added an amendment restricting access to medication abortion. He also voted in favor of repealing an assistance program that helped individuals with disabilities, people who are dependent on drugs, and those who have survived domestic abuse.

Stephen Krizan III, Democratic Challenger: According to his campaign site, Krizan believes that “healthcare is a right and not a privilege. Everyone deserves access to affordable healthcare with no pre-existing conditions.” He also supports improving the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. Krizan did not respond to Keystone’s request for more information on his healthcare agenda.

District 49 (Parts of Erie County)

Daniel Laughlin, Republican Incumbent: Sen. Laughlin did not respond to a request for comment on his stance on affordable health care. In 2018, he voted in favor of requiring people on Medicaid to prove to the government that they are looking for a job or work at least 20 hours a week to keep their coverage. (Gov. Wolf vetoed the bill.) 

Julie Slomski, Democratic Challenger: Slomski also did not respond to the Keystone’s query. According to her campaign website, she supports “access to health care that is actually affordable” and wants to institute a new tax on fossil fuels to support education and health care.