This morning, the five candidates for the Democratic nomination in the special election for the Massachusetts Fifth Congressional District gathered at the Hudson Portuguese Club in Hudson, Massachusetts, to discuss health care policy.
The candidates attending were Lowell City Councillor Eileen Donoghue, State Rep. Jamie Eldridge (D - Acton), State Rep. Barry Finegold (D - Andover), State Rep. James Miceli (D - Wilmington), and Niki Tsongas, the Dean of External Affairs at Middlesex Community College - and the widow of former Senator Paul Tsongas.
This forum was sponsored by the Middlesex and Worcester Democratic Coalition and BlogLeft Massachusetts, a loose coalition of bloggers of which this observer is a part. Other BlogLeft bloggers, including Charley from Blue Mass. Group, Ryan of Ryan's Take, sco from .08 Acres and a Donkey, and Lynne from Left in Lowell liveblogged the event. (This observer did not liveblog the event because my equipment was otherwise in use.)
The forum was moderated by Dolores Mitchell, the long-time Director of the Massachusetts Group Insurance Commission. Ms. Mitchell framed the issues by reviewing the health care positions of the Democratic Presidential candidates, including former Senator John Edwards and Senator Barack Obama, who would build upon the current system of privately provided health insurance, former Senator Mike Gravel, who favors universal health care vouchers, and Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who favors a single publicly funded health care system in this country.
The Fifth District candidates' positions covered a similar range to the Presidential candidates. Donoghue, Finegold, Miceli, and Tsongas favor mixed plans with public and private elements, although Donoghue said that if a publicly funded single payer health plan could be implemented practically and quickly, she would favor it. Eldridge came out emphatically in favor of single payer publicly funded coverage - as proposed in H.R. 676 (The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act), which was introduced in Congress in 2005 by Michigan Congressman John Conyers.
Donoghue and Tsongas expressed specific concerns about an approach like H.R. 676 - particularly that this legislation creates a long lead time to full implementation - 15 years. Both Donoghue and Tsongas expressed the view that the needs of uninsured and underinsured Americans need to be met now. Eldridge feels that this approach is the only way that will guarantee that health care will treated as a public good. He feels that profits have no place in the health care sector. Finegold argued in favor of his proposal to ban television advertising of prescription drugs as a way to reduce costs. (This is an idea that TER discussed favorably more than two years ago.) Miceli expressed his view that maintaining a "public-private partnership" is important.
The candidates identified what they see as the big problems with health care. For Miceli, it is portability of coverage. For Eldridge, the lack of portability and the private profits under the current system are problems that would be addressed by national health coverage. Tsongas sees the cost of care as a key problem. Finegold focused on prescription drug costs. Donoghue focused on the fact that people are uninsured and underinsured and need coverage quickly.
The candidates were in agreement on a number of issues. They felt that FDA fast-tracking of drugs is problematic. They do not feel that enough is being done to prepare for avian flu. They all oppose President Bush's policies on stem cell research.
Four of the five candidates favor abortion rights. Miceli described himself as "the pro-life candidate." Three of the candidates - Tsongas, Finegold, and Eldridge - favor the legalization of medical marijuana, although Tsongas emphasized the need to assure proper control of its use. All of the candidates except Finegold favor importing drugs from Canada. Finegold feels that measures need to be taken that will reduce the prices that Americans pay for drugs without resorting to importation. These measures include banning television advertising.
The candidates came across as well-informed on these issues. This observer feels that the voters of the Fifth Congressional District are well-served by this field of candidates.