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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Lisa Brown: We need solutions that lower health care costs and expand access, not slogans

Lisa Brown

Nothing defines the choice in this election between Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and me more clearly than our votes, our record of accomplishments in expanding health care in Eastern Washington, and the solutions we offer going forward.

A little over a year ago, despite opposition from Eastern Washington hospitals, patients and health care providers, advocates for people with disabilities and the chamber of commerce, Rep. McMorris Rodgers voted for the American Health Care Act.

Two weeks ago, she was still defending the vote, claiming that the “vision” wasn’t clearly communicated. I strongly disagree. The bill was bad in many ways for our families and economy.

In short, Sen. John McCain was right on the AHCA and Rep. McMorris Rodgers is still wrong.

My record on health care is strong and points to what I would work for in Congress. I’ve voted to protect people with pre-existing conditions, to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and to save lives and taxpayer dollars with the breast and cervical cancer screening program. At Washington State University Spokane, I worked with community and legislative leaders to create a new residency program, a teaching health clinic in the university district, and our new medical school headquartered here in Spokane.

It’s been eight years since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law. The ACA is far from perfect, but it protected people with pre-existing conditions, allowed young people to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26, and created coverage for over 33,000 people in Eastern Washington through Apple Health. It doesn’t do enough though to control costs, and there is still a lot of frustration because of added barriers caused by insurance rules and bureaucracy that come between a patient and their doctor.

But “Repeal and Replace,” the answer offered by Republican leadership since the ACA’s passage, is a slogan, not a solution. Many bipartisan solutions have been proposed to expand access to health care in this Congress and lower premiums. I will focus on these solutions and work to improve our health care system, not tear it down.

Three principles have guided me as I have worked to expand health care as a state legislator and as chancellor of WSU’s Health Sciences campus in Spokane: 1) Everyone deserves health care – no one should be left out; 2) Families and businesses should not face financial ruin because of a chronic medical condition, and; 3) We need to do more research and provide resources to reduce economic, ethnic and geographic health disparities.

I will stand up to the administration and advocate for a bill that protects people with diabetes, epilepsy and so many other pre-existing conditions. A bipartisan bill proposed last year by Sens. Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander would stabilize premiums. Alternatives sponsored by my opponent substantially weaken protections, and have been called “window dressing” by health care advocates.

I will work to lower the cost of prescription drugs – the federal government can and should use its buying power to negotiate lower costs. Pharmaceutical companies have given millions of dollars in campaign contributions to many in Congress, including my opponent, who have then used their clout to block reform of pricing. I am not accepting corporate PAC contributions and will work to bring down the cost of prescription drugs.

Additionally, I strongly support the principles of universal coverage and recognize there are a few different paths to getting there – something we should do. In fact, we already have costly universal coverage in this country: the emergency room. Hospitals can’t turn away people in need of care, and end up with overwhelming costs. There are more effective ways of treating more people, notably by expanding eligibility for Medicare, which is a universal system.

There are certain things we should not do: 1) We should not imperil Medicaid through block grants, which Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers supports (block grants freeze Medicaid funding at a level that only covers the current population, making it an untenable option for a rapidly growing state like Washington); 2) We should fix the “donut hole” in Medicare, something my opponent has voted to reopen 16 times; and 3) We should not seek to lower prices by bringing more insurance companies into the market. Competition among private companies isn’t the answer – companies can change their coverage rules on a whim, resulting in more substandard insurance plans which don’t offer what families need for health care security.

We need solutions to bring about universal coverage. In Congress, I’ll work to get things done and safeguard our country’s existing health care protections, so that more residents in Eastern Washington can access the care they need.

Lisa Brown, a former WSU Spokane chancellor and former Washington state Senate majority leader, is a candidate for the 5th Congressional District of Washington.