The rising cost of health care has become a major point of contention in this year's race for the 22nd Congressional District, including how the candidates have voted on the issue in the past.
Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-New Hartford) says her opponent is misleading the voters on his health care stance. She says Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica) claims to be against a universal health care system like Medicare For All, but notes that he voted for a state-run version while a member of the New York State Assembly.
"How reliable is he?" Tenney asked. "Can we put someone in office that's going to vote one way and do something else and say now I'm going to walk that back? I’m going to give him the golden flip flop award on that one."
Tenney says a universal health care system would just further drive up medical costs. But Brindisi says while he did vote for a single payer system in New York, he is not calling for the same on the federal level at this time.
"What’s good for New York may not be the best answer for the rest of the country," Brindisi said. "I supported the New York Health Act because we have to deal with the issue of rising premiums. That was a message to the federal government to do something. I’ve always said that the number one priority for me in terms of health care when I get to Congress is fixing the Affordable Care Act (ACA)."
Brindisi says fixes he would advocate for include letting Medicare negotiate with drug companies, going after drug companies that are price-gouging consumers and allowing for the re-importation of cheaper drugs from other countries. Once those are implemented, Brindisi says he would then be open to the discussion of a universal health care system.
The reason health care costs are spiking right now, Brindisi says, is because of attacks on the ACA. He notes that many health insurance companies are raising prices this year because of the recently passed tax overhaul that repealed the individual mandate, which required all Americans to have some form of health insurance or pay a penalty. Tenney voted for that legislation.
Syracuse University political science professor Chris Faricy says Tenney may also be hurt by her vote for the American Health Care Act, an Obamacare replacement bill that would have allowed states to charge people with preexisting conditions more for their health care. And Faricy says Brindisi may have a hard time standing by more government involvement in health care in a district that is more conservative.
"So while Brindisi will have to answer for his votes in the New York State Assembly, he might be on better grounds because Medicare For All - which you can says that's what the New York state version was - is more popular than the idea of eliminating the preexisting condition."
Tenney defends those votes, saying she thinks government intrusion in the health care market is ultimately what's responsible for high costs, and is advocating instead for more free-market competition in the system to lower prices.
Who ultimately triumphs, Faricy says, could be the candidate whose message on the subject best appeals to those in the middle.
"If people’s costs go up in later summer, early fall that pinch in their health care costs could be a motivating factor in voting for someone who makes a credible claim for reducing prescription costs or reducing the cost of deductibles," Faricy said. "Whatever candidate comes across as most credible for having a plan - or their party having a plan - to reduce health care costs could really earn the vote with a lot of Independents this fall."
The 22nd District covers parts of eight counties stretching from eastern Oswego County, to the Mohawk Valley, to the Southern Tier.