HUDSON — Democrat Antonio Delgado argued that the public has been fed misinformation about his position on health care reform, an issue a new poll found is the No. 1 priority of voters in the district.
Delgado visited the Columbia-Greene Media editorial board Wednesday and said he can find common ground in shared values on issues such as agriculture and the opioid crisis, if elected Nov. 6.
Election Day is three days away and polls show the race for the 19th Congressional District is a virtual dead heat between Delgado and incumbent Republican Rep. John Faso.
Delgado won the candidacy in the June 26 primary, beating out six other challengers with little more than 22 percent of the vote.
Delgado is running to represent a swing district in a highly contentious and high-priority race for Democrats to take the majority of seats in the House of Representatives.
Since winning the nomination Delgado has pushed his health care agenda more than anything else, calling for a public option for all through Medicare that would also have the power to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies, while also defending himself from constant Republican attacks focused on his earlier rap career.
“The stories about my position on health care are a classic symptom of a political climate that has fed on misleading people,” Delgado said. “Among the seven Democrats who were running [in the primary] I was one of just a couple who staked out a public-option position, not a Medicare-for-all position. I’ve been pretty clear on my stance from the beginning.”
Delgado calls for a public option in which anyone can opt into Medicare, something he argues could cause premiums and deductibles to decrease through increased competition.
“This would allow folks to keep their private insurance if they so desire,” Delgado said. “But it will also create a floor within the private insurance market place. In our system you either have to qualify for Medicaid or for Medicare, and if you don’t qualify for either of those and you are not a veteran, you are essentially beholden to the private insurance marketplace without any option.”
Delgado said his option would also help small business owners who are required to provide insurance if they employ 50 or more full-time employees. He also argued that some employees feel trapped at jobs because of the insurance that is offered.
Delgado pointed to a bill in the U.S. Senate Finance Committee called the State Public Option Act, sponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, that would create a public option through Medicaid that people can buy into in their states, as an example. The bill has no Republican cosponsors. No Congressional Budget Office analysis of this legislation or of Delgado’s plan exists.
Delgado is also calling for providing Medicare the power to negotiate prices with large pharmaceutical companies, saying it is a distinction between him and Faso.
A recent poll from Monmouth University, which surveyed 372 likely voters in the district, found that 37 percent of voters are prioritizing health care policy issues when they vote this month. At the same time 46 percent of voters surveyed said they trust Delgado to make health care more affordable compared to 32 percent who trust Faso to get it done.
The poll, which was released Oct. 30 and has a margin of error of 5.1 percentage points, showed Delgado leading Faso in votes 49 percent to 44 percent.
Delgado criticized Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act last year, which ultimately boiled down to a repeal of the individual mandate that was the backbone of the ACA through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by Congress in December 2017.
Delgado specifically mentioned an amendment to the ACA repeal legislation — the American Health Care Act — that passed in the House.
The amendment known as the MacArthur Amendment, named after Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., would allow states to request a waiver from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for certain mandated provisions of the ACA, including one prohibiting the pricing of customers based on health conditions, including those with pre-existing conditions, as long as that person maintains continuous coverage.
Faso voted to pass the AHCA, and said the amendment would not affect New Yorkers because the state already provides protections to people with pre-existing conditions.
Delgado also said the amendment would allow insurance companies to charge higher premiums for older customers who don’t qualify for Medicare than for younger customers at a ratio of 5-to-1.
Delgado criticized Faso’s defense for his vote for the AHCA, including the MacArthur Amendment, that the higher premiums for elders would not affect New Yorkers because the state legislature passed legislation in 1992 that set community-rated insurance at a ratio of 1-to-1, which requires companies charge everyone the same in a particular territory the same rates, regardless of health status.
“[Faso] was in the state Assembly when that vote happened,” Delgado said. “There were 25 members who decided not to sign on to that bipartisan piece of legislation, and he was one of them.”
Just 5 percent of farms in the nation are considered large corporate farms, and none of the farms in the district are considered corporate farms, which is a fact that is disregarded in the national narrative on farming issues, Delgado said.
“The vast majority of farms are small, mid-tier and family-owned farms,” Delgado said. “But the way we talk about farming in this country, which again speaks to outside specialized corporatized interests, is always through the prism of those monopolies.”
Delgado criticized the 2018 Farm Bill — the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 — which passed in both houses of Congress in June. The bill, a final version of which is underway in both houses, would provide changes to an insurance program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture that provides assistance to dairy farmers when milk prices fall too far below the cost for feed. The farm bill would increase the top coverage level within the dairy insurance program from $8 to $9, which will help more farmers who did not see a payout earlier from the program.
But Delgado argued that the bill as it stands would allow grant programs, such as the Local Food Promotion and Farmers Market, to expire, while not providing funding to a program that helps organic farmers with the cost of their annual certification and the Conservation Stewardship Program.
“The vast majority of the subsidies in the Farm Bill go to mega, or corporate, farms,” Delgado said. “You don’t have anybody advocating for small farmers. I wouldn’t vote for that farm bill that cuts critical programming.”
Not enough focus has been given to treatment as a way to combat the ever-growing number of deaths due to substance abuse, particularly the abuse of opiates, Delgado said.
“One of the things that has been one of the most difficult for me, through this process, is when a mother comes up to me, with tears in her eyes, and pleads with me to do something about the opioid epidemic,” Delgado said. “You can’t erase that. It’s a real issue. The numbers are not acceptable.”
Columbia County saw a total of 19 opioid overdose deaths in 2017, according to the latest data from the state Department of Health. The county also saw two opioid overdose deaths from January to March this year. Greene County saw 11 opioid overdose deaths in 2017. Between January and March this year Greene County has seen four opioid overdose deaths.
“We need to stop criminalizing the behavior,” Delgado said. “And create a funding apparatus that allows individuals the treatment that they need without being incarcerated. That means funding for drug treatment centers.”
Delgado cited the Chatham Cares 4 U program, put together by Chatham Police Chief Peter Volkmann, which makes the police station a safe place for addicts to get help, an example of programs that the federal government should back.
“The other part is to hold these drug companies accountable,” Delgado said. “Companies know they overprescribe these drugs despite knowing they are highly addictive. Legislatively, there has got to be a way to deter that kind of conduct.”