Latest debate puts health care in spotlight
John Faso and Zephyr Teachout each said during their latest debate that they would maintain an office in Kingston if they were elected to represent New York’s 19th Congressional District. But on other topics, they were quick to point out their differences.
The debate, Thursday evening at Congregation Emanuel on Albany Avenue in Kingston, was the second time the candidates faced off this week in their contest to succeed U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook.
As in previous debates, Faso, a Republican from Columbia County, and Teachout, a Democrat from Dutchess County, fielded a wide variety of questions.
Unlike in earlier debates, though, the crowd was much more spirited and encouraged to participate by applauding their candidate of choice. That applause at times was joined by boos and hisses and, at one point, by a protester who walked to the front of the room and held a large banner that looked like a check written to Faso from “Wall Street bankers.”
The protester and a companion were quickly escorted from the venue, but not before Faso joked they were not part of his campaign.
A spokeswoman for Teachout later said the protesters were not part of her campaign either.
Questions posed to the candidates covered such subjects as Social Security, health insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act, privatizing the federal Veterans Health Administration, infrastructure and the presidential election. Closer to home, they were asked about the proposal from the U.S. Coast Guard to establish 10 large-vessel anchorage grounds along the Hudson River between Yonkers and Kingston.
“I don’t think the Veterans [Health] Administration should be privatized, however I do think that the veterans of our country deserve better,” Faso said. He said he would like veterans to be able to see any medical provider of their choice, which would create competition between the VHA and private health-care providers.
Faso then shared a story of a veteran who was injured by an improvised explosive device. He said doctors at the Veterans Health Administration told the man they wanted to remove his foot, but the veteran found a doctor in the private sector who was able to save it.
Teachout said she, too, opposed privatization, but added that the Veterans Health Administration’s Choice Program needs serious reform. She said she met a veteran who, believing he was having a heart attack, called the Choice Program. When no one answered, he went to a private hospital and now is still paying the bill, Teachout said.
“The VA provides essential services to our veterans,” Teachout said. She added, though, that she wants to be sure veterans have access to speedy care and that their coverage is expanded to include dental insurance.
Teachout also said she wants veterans to have integrated care so that, even when they see a provider outside the Veterans Health Administration, it still would be accountable.
On a related question, Faso and Teachout disagreed about why health insurance premiums under the federal Affordable Care Act are becoming more expensive.
Teachout said the premiums were increasing because big insurance and pharmacy companies have too much power. She said “Big Pharma” is giving campaign contributions and hiring lobbyists to have that power and that Congress should investigate.
Faso said premiums were going up because the act, commonly called Obamacare, was collapsing under its own weight. He said that’s because there was an assumption that younger, healthier people would be joining the system and supporting premiums for older people, but it didn’t happen.
To fix the problem, he said, there needs to be a system that is more patient-centered, with an increased number of healthcare providers and the ability for every person to have a flexible savings account in which to put money for routine health care.
On the topic of Social Security, Faso also said the system should not be privatized but that young people should be given the option to set aside more of their income before taxes to support their retirement.
Teachout said fixing Social Security should include raising the cap on taxed income and that she is committed to protecting and expanding Social Security.
Asked about the presidential race, Faso said he has been focused on the 19th Congressional District. He said, though, that he disagrees with Republican candidate Donald Trump on immigration.
“I disagree with him on a lot of the rhetoric that I’ve heard,” Faso said. “I disagree with him on a number of other areas. So [I] find myself, like many Americans, thinking, in a country of 320 million people, this is our choice?”
Teachout said she believes Democrat Hillary Clinton will be the next president.
“I believe Donald Trump is unfit to be president,” she said, “not just because of rhetoric or policies, but because of actively boasting about sexual assault; because of, in broad strokes, describing whole different communities.”
Teachout said it is important to stand up against the rise of someone like Trump.
Faso, a former state assemblyman, has lived in the district for decades, while Teachout, a law professor at Fordham University, moved there just before launching her campaign. Her name is not unfamiliar to district residents, though, thanks to her Democratic primary election challenge to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2014.
Faso made unsuccessful statewide runs for governor in 2006, when he was defeated by Eliot Spitzer, and state comptroller in 2002, when he was defeated by Alan Hevesi.
The 19th Congressional District includes all of Ulster, Greene and Columbia counties, most of Dutchess County and some or all of seven other counties.
Congressional candidates John Faso, left, and Zephyr Teachout wait to be introduced at Thursday night’s debate in Kingston.
Congressional candidates Zephyr Teachout, left, and John Faso participate in Thursday evening’s debate at Congregation Emanuel in Kingston.