Every American should have access to affordable health care, regardless of their employment status or income level. In the same way that basic education is the foundation of a strong country, health care affects our nation’s competitiveness and security, and in the wealthiest country on earth, no one should be without it. As the mother of three young kids, a Catholic, and the daughter of one of the first women to graduate from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, it’s a deeply moral issue for me. Kentuckians need affordable health care coverage they can rely on.
Stop Undermining the Affordable Care Act
Too many people have been priced out of health care while Washington politicians like Sen. Mitch McConnell fail to fix our health care system and actively undermine what protections we have. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is far from perfect, but through Kynect and expanded Medicaid, it enabled many Kentuckians—especially those with pre-existing conditions—to get affordable health insurance for the first time. As a result of the ACA, the uninsured rate in Kentucky dropped to 11% from 20%.
But Sen. McConnell still pushed to pass a repeal bill without replacement legislation that would have stripped health care coverage from up to 22 million people, including close to 400,000 Kentuckians. In fact, he has voted 19 times to weaken or repeal the ACA entirely. And he did this all while taking in over more than $1.1 million in donations from the health care industry over the past 30 years.
I remain committed to working for a bipartisan plan to fix the ACA’s problems, while maintaining current essential health benefits, preventing insurers from charging higher premiums based on factors such as health status or pre-existing conditions, and without imposing annual or lifetime coverage caps.
Bipartisan Solutions for America’s Health Care
Our country’s health care system is still failing far too many Americans. My mother was a practicing doctor for 40 years, and I saw her frustration with the power of insurance companies and with the associated rising costs. We can do better in this country—and we must.
The goal of changes must be health care cover for all Americans, but we need to be honest about how to get there. A single-payer system would require such a sweeping overhaul of our health care system that it would throw our system into massive upheaval. Since we are not starting from scratch, and we have to work with the system that we have, I do not currently support such an approach.
Every major piece of legislation in our country has needed fixes along the way: Social Security and Medicare were not created perfectly. The ACA is no exception. And as we have fixed and revised these programs so necessary to our American way of life, we have overcome challenges and expanded opportunities in every generation. In each case, we didn’t quit simply because it was hard and the answers weren’t clear at the start. Instead, we redoubled our efforts, worked together, and found ways around obstacles. That is the American way. We work over time—in the words of the Constitution itself—to make our policies “more perfect.”
We must address rising premiums and deductibles, and the rising cost of prescription medications without limiting access to affordable health care. This is critical, and there are some realistic ways we can do that.
Create a Public Option
A public option would give all Americans the opportunity to buy a publicly run insurance plan instead of a private insurance plan, if they prefer to do so. With some people still unable to afford coverage and many more paying too much for the coverage they have, we must increase competition among existing carriers. A public option would lower premiums—since the goal would not be to make a profit—and would guarantee that in those counties with just one or two insurers, rates would not artificially spike with a lack of competition. This also gives people more choices: no one would be forced to go with a government-run plan, but it would be there if Americans wished to choose it. It is critical that every American, even if they are employed, be allowed to buy into this public option.
Right now, we are in the middle of a once in a lifetime pandemic and economic crisis, and that means we need to be especially proactive about providing people health care. We should create a subsidized public option immediately for the duration of the pandemic. Families below 200% of the federal poverty line and anyone who loses their employer-based insurance will be eligible for automatic enrollment. There would be no deductibles for anyone.
I support a Medicare buy-in option for those over the age of 55. This would provide some peace of mind for more vulnerable Americans who have some of the greatest health care needs while lowering premiums for those under 55.
Lower Prescription Drug Costs
The average Kentuckian spends over $2,000 annually on prescription medications—the second highest in the nation. Sen. McConnell has a long history of repeatedly blocking bi-partisan solutions that would address this problem, including legislation that would have allowed Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices.
While blocking this legislation, Sen. McConnell has taken in more than $1.1 million in campaign cash over the past 30 years from Big Pharma and the health industry, and was the number one recipient of Big Pharma cash in his last election.
I will not be bought off by Big Pharma. I will work to rein in prescription drug costs for my fellow Kentuckians by taking on the pharmaceutical industry, exploring new options like re-importation, and allowing Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices.
End Surprise Billing
More than 30% of privately-insured Kentucky adults reported that they have been subjected to surprise medical bills. McConnell has let legislation that would stop surprise billing — including legislation that had bipartisan or Republican support — languish in the Senate and failed to include it in coronavirus legislation even though it had Trump administration backing. What’s he getting for it? A lot. The companies and groups that directly worked to kill legislation that would address the issue have given McConnell almost $300,000 during the 2019-20 election cycle.
No one should come home to a health bill they weren’t ready for. If we get rid of McConnell, we can end this practice immediately.
Close the Racial Health Gap
In addition to expanding Medicare and creating a public option, we must invest in community health centers, increased access to telemedicine, and mitigation of environmental and infrastructural hazards that disportionately harm minority communities. We also must create a full plan for how to close the mortality gap for mothers.
Address the Opioid Crisis
Our friends, family and community members are dying at alarming rates across the nation from the opioid crisis. From 1999 to 2017, more than 702,000 people died from a drug overdose in the U.S. By comparison, we lost 58,000 soldiers in the Vietnam War. This is a public health crisis and a huge national problem that needs a multi-level response.
Lawmakers need to start being honest about investments that will be needed to tackle this drug crisis in areas of research, prevention, treatment, and recovery. Experts believe we need to invest at least $45 billion over 10 years to actually improve outcomes. Sen. McConnell has only secured a fraction of the amount needed. He is throwing pennies at a major epidemic and giving us lip-service from Washington. Between 2006 and 2014, more than 2 billion pain pills flowed into Kentucky, and Mitch did nothing to stop it.
Along with being a public health and moral issue, this is a workforce issue. Individuals who are struggling with addiction could be working to support their families and communities—they need help. A 2017 report by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce found that the state’s high rate of opioid prescriptions drives Kentucky’s low workforce participation rate and makes it harder for employers to fill available jobs.
Substance abuse also drives chronic homelessness. We need to scale successful programs like Recovery Kentucky—a program that provides housing and addiction support services—to the national level. These programs save the state’s taxpayers millions of dollars in emergency room bills and jail costs. We also need to expand the use of drug courts so that people who are arrested for drug-only offenses can get the help they need.
The federal government ought to be supporting similar programs as part of a comprehensive declaration of emergency to fight the opioid epidemic. We also need to expand funding for Health and Human Services to expand research for better treatments. The time to act is now before we lose more lives to this disease. I will work to make sure Congress starts making real investments at the federal and state level to end this crisis.
The time to act is now before we lose more lives to this disease. I will work to make sure Congress starts making real investments at the federal and state level to end this crisis.