SARANAC LAKE — Tedra Cobb is still focused on health care reform in her campaign for New York’s 21st Congressional District, but she is vague on the details of what she thinks that reform should look like.
The Democratic candidate from Canton now supports a public-option expansion of the Affordable Care Act. That is a change from her 2018 campaign, when at times she supported a “Medicare for All” overhaul of the health care system and at other times did not say what system she preferred.
Cobb’s statements, speeches and press releases often come back to the topic of health care. It is the main thrust of her campaign.
Cobb has spent the majority of her life on two things, health care and politics, and she said running for Congress against incumbent Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, is a combination of the two.
Asked in a recent interview if she thinks this campaign fixation on health care could be a detriment to her campaign, as it means she focuses less on other issues, she said “no” because she believes health care affects average people at every level of their lives.
“Think about the number-one thing your family worries about,” she said.
She said voters of all parties want health care reform, and she believes they are willing to vote across the aisle to get that done. A former volunteer firefighter herself, she compared health care reform to a house fire.
“As a firefighter, you don’t look at a house and go, ‘Oh my gosh! Are the Democrats or Republicans in that house?’” Cobb said. “You just go and you fight the fire.”
Cobb’s exact method of fighting this fire is uncertain, but it involves a public option.
“The thing for me is, we don’t know what it will look like, but it (will be) the opportunity to buy into a public option,” Cobb said. “(Presidential candidate Pete) Buttigieg calls it ‘Medicare for those who want it.’”
This is not Medicare for All or single-payer health care; it is an expansion of the ACA. Citizens could buy into Medicare or buy into some other private insurance. This way, Cobb said, the more people who buy into the public option, the lower the cost is for all of them.
For example, she said, workers whose unions have negotiated satisfactory insurance plans for them would not have to join the public option.
Cobb used to support Medicare for All. She said she has backed off of it since there is not consensus support in the medical community for that method.
Her end goal is to make health care affordable.
“We have older people who are deciding whether to pay their taxes or to get their medications,” she said.
She said she wants to not see more buckets at Stewart’s Shops around the North Country, collecting donations for people battling cancer.
Cobb strongly criticized Stefanik’s votes on health care issues.
“I have spent my adult life getting people access to health care, and Stefanik has spent her career in Washington trying to take it away,” Cobb said. “That is the difference between the two of us.”
Last year Stefanik voted against an amendment to prevent the Department of Justice from using federal funds for lawsuits to undermine the ACA. The amendment passed nevertheless in the Democratic-majority House of Representatives.
Stefanik also voted against the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, which Cobb said she supports. This bill also passed.
Stefanik spokeswoman Madison Anderson said Stefanik voted against this bill because it “includes a 95% tax on life-saving cures for rare diseases.” The bill authorizes a 95% excise tax on drug makers who don’t cooperate with the federal government and don’t sell at prices that are considered satisfactory. Anderson said Stefanik instead supports the Lower Costs, More Cures Act, which features many but not all provisions of the Elijah Cummings bill and could be more likely to pass through the Republican-majority Senate and be signed by the president.
Some of the 21st District’s counties have the highest per-capita rates of opioid addiction in the state, but there are not enough detox beds to help everyone, Cobb noted. As she has traveled the North Country for the past few years, She said she was struck by the number of people who have had addiction touch their lives.
It touched her life, too.
“In the spring, I had to help one of my brothers get into a detox,” Cobb said.
She said her brother had a seizure as he attempted to start drinking less. She said the resources to help him were slim. He started drinking again after he was discharged from the hospital. She said she picked him up at a police station.
She called detox clinics, but they were closed on Saturdays.
“Sitting at the hospital, the social worker said, ‘There are no beds at these facilities,’” Cobb said. “And then she said, ‘Well, what insurance does he have?’”
Cobb told the nurse, and the nurse called and got him a bed.
“Because he had good insurance, there was a bed,” Cobb said.
Cobb said this means the mental health parity law is not being implemented fairly, which requires equal treatment of mental health conditions and substance-use disorders in insurance plans.
That same week, Cobb said, Stefanik voted against expanding the numbers of health navigators, who guide patients through the ACA health care system. This bill, called the MORE Health Education Act, passed anyway.
Anderson explained Stefanik’s vote.
“This bill pumps more money into the fundamentally broken Obamacare exchanges while undermining desperately needed reforms to lower costs and increase options,” Anderson wrote in an email.
Cobb said she wants to oppose companies like Johnson & Johnson, which she said are responsible for creating the opioid crisis.
“Opioid addiction rates are directly tied to economic outcomes in this district,” Cobb said.
The Johnson & Johnson political action committee has donated $2,000 to Stefanik’s 2020 campaign. Cobb said money from these corporations taints Stefanik’s votes.
Anderson said it is “absolutely untrue” that money from companies like Johnson & Johnson affects the way Stefanik votes. She said Stefanik, as a member of the Heroin Task Force, is working to fight the opioid epidemic.
Overall, Cobb said because health care is complicated, she wants to help explain and simplify it, and if elected to Congress, she believes she will be able to do that.
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