2nd District candidates Lewis and Craig clash on health care

Angie Craig, DFL candidate for Congress in Minnesota 2nd District
Angie Craig, DFL candidate for Congress in Minnesota 2nd District, speaks with supporters about health care at Wildcats Bar & Grill in Eagan, Minn., on June 29, 2018.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

What's the biggest issue in the southern metro area this election year? Health care, said Angie Craig, the endorsed Democrat seeking to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis in a rematch of their 2016 contest.

Craig said voters are constantly raising concerns about cost of health care.

"It's what every single individual that I talk to brings up to me as the first or second concern in their family," she said.

And she blamed Lewis and other Republicans who control the House, Senate and White House for not making health care more affordable.

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"Jason Lewis has had almost two years now to come up with any sort of fix that makes health care more affordable," Craig said. "Republicans in Congress have not done anything to make health care more affordable or more accessible in this country."

Lewis pointed the finger back at Craig and Democrats who support the Affordable Care Act, which he calls Obamacare and says made health care more expensive and less accessible.

Jason Lewis campaigns at a parade in Farmington.
Jason Lewis, 2nd District Republican congressman, campaigns at a parade in Farmington, Minn., on June 16, 2018.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Lewis stands firm in his support for a failed Republican health care bill that would have slashed Medicaid spending and, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, increased the number of uninsured Americans by 23 million over 10 years.

Rather than finding ways to make Obamacare work better, such as agreeing on a national reinsurance program to stabilize the individual market, Lewis said lawmakers should promote market reforms that would make less costly health insurance options available to Americans.

"What I tried to do with reforming health care was to make certain young and healthy people could get into the insurance pools with lower premiums, a catastrophic coverage, major medical is what my parents used to buy," he said.

Craig contends people with preexisting medical problems and would have faced higher insurance costs under the bill Lewis voted for.

It's a claim Lewis rejects.

"The bill didn't change preexisting conditions," he said. "You still had to cover preexisting conditions. That's a canard. A total canard!"

But it's not quite that simple. If the Republican-backed measure had become law, states would have been able to apply for waivers to restructure health plan benefits allowing insurers to charge sicker people more for coverage. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that as many as one in six Americans could have faced that prospect.

That could have hurt many people in Minnesota's 2nd District, Craig said.

"In this congressional district, 51 percent of non-elderly members of this district — that's over 300,000 people have a preexisting condition. It's one of the largest in the country and so they would have paid more," she said.

Critics in her own party have taken Craig to task for her stance on single-payer health care. Craig says she supports moving in that direction, but that such a dramatic change would have to be rolled out more slowly than the current two-year plan most House Democrats are backing.

Lewis is confident that Americans want the government out of their health care. He says with fewer restrictions, the marketplace would come up with policies people would want to buy. But his critics call the low-cost options Lewis is promoting "junk" plans.

And as he prepared to campaign in a parade a few weeks ago Lewis even disputed Craig and other Democrats' contention that health care is a top issue for voters.

"They got nothing else," he said. "I mean, you think about this, what are they going to run on? Taking away your tax cut?