By Vicki Smith
Listen to the U.S. Senate debate in West Virginia, and you might think the late Sen. Edward Kennedy is still alive.
During a Tuesday night discussion about reforming Medicaid and health care, Republican candidate John Raese described the American system as the world’s greatest — and he described Kennedy in the present tense.
“When Ted Kennedy gets sick, he doesn’t go to Europe, does he?” Raese asked a crowd of about 200 at Shepherd University. “He doesn’t go to France and he doesn’t go to Nova Scotia. He goes to this country.”
But the legendary Massachusetts Democrat died of cancer in 2009.
Nonetheless, the discussion that sparked a few gasps and giggles made the three candidates’ positions clear: Raese, who calls health care as “an amenity” rather than a right, would revoke so-called “Obamacare” entirely. Incumbent Democrat Joe Manchin said the “building blocks” should be preserved while other aspects of the legislation are repaired. And Mountain Party contender Bob Henry Baber would take the federal reforms even further, to what he calls true universal care.
Raese’s remarks came in the context of a question about how to attract more physicians to work in rural areas. After suggesting that most doctors will refuse to practice when the federal reforms are in full force, he said the only way to address the doctor shortage is to grow the economy.
“Then we can have the amenities that we so richly deserve,” he said, calling for the abolition of the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, and for the end of regulations that he says constrain industry and economic development.
Baber, however, scoffed at those ideas.
“It’s amazing to me,” he said, “that if we just unfetter the titans of industry and allow them to do whatever they wish, and we just get rid of Obamacare, everything will just be perfect with the United States and we can all go home.
“No, we do not have the greatest system,” Baber said, calling health care a right rather than a privilege. “We have the greatest system for those who can afford it. If you’re middle class, you’re at risk. If you’re the working poor, you’re at risk. It’s a broken system.”
He then chastised Raese, as he did on other issues throughout the debate, for trying to suggest that Manchin supported the president and voted for the Affordable Health Care Act — before Manchin was even in the Senate.
The attempt to tie Manchin to Obama in every instance “when he’s been an independent person,” Baber said, “is absurd to me.”
Manchin said it makes no sense to throw out positive aspects of health care reform “in a toxic atmosphere where nobody can agree on anything.”
“To the people that say ‘repeal,’ I say, ‘What are you going to replace it with?”’ he asked, adding that it’s easier to take a rigid party line than it is to work toward compromise.
“The easiest vote I can make in the Senate is no,” he said. “It’s easy. I don’t have to explain it. I can be against everything.”
But, he added, “that’s not fixing America.”
Manchin said he agrees with Baber’s assessment that the American health care system is the greatest “if you can afford it. If you’re wealthy enough or you have insurance to afford it.
“The problem is there are too many millions of Americans that can’t,” he said.
A system that focuses on preventive care will drive costs down by keeping more Americans healthy, he said.
“That’s all we’re talking about,” Manchin said. “This is not rocket science.”