By Stefanie Jackson – There was a new face and a new format at this spring’s Eggs and Issues, a breakfast and political forum organized biannually by the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce.
Congresswoman Elaine Luria spoke and answered inquiries from the audience in the Northampton High School gym April 23, before a panel of state and local politicians took their turn fielding questions.
“Everyone deserves access to quality, affordable health care,” she said during an explanation of her position on what an inquirer termed “single payer” or “socialized medicine.”
Single-payer health care means there is one public health care system that is funded by taxes, making the government the single payer.
“The Affordable Care Act (ACA) – it’s a first step, but it was never perfect when we implemented it,” she acknowledged.
“I believe in preserving the Affordable Care Act and continuing to make it better.”
Rather than abandoning the ACA in favor of creating a single-payer health care system, Luria is interested in adding a “public option.”
That means establishing a public health insurance agency that would create competition for private health insurance companies, with the purpose of driving down healthcare costs while preserving quality of care.
One example of a possible public option for health insurance is called Medicare-X, proposed by U.S. Senators Tim Kaine, of Virginia, and Michael Bennet, of Colorado.
The senators introduced the Medicare-X bill earlier this month. If it succeeds, starting in 2021, Medicare-X would be offered to localities that have a shortage of healthcare insurers. Medicare-X would be available in all ZIP codes by 2024.
Accomack and Northampton counties are among 62 Virginia localities with only one insurer participating in the ACA marketplace.
Luria seeks to reduce prescription drug costs through her participation on the bipartisan caucus, Problem Solvers, which is focusing on the issue of drug patent extensions artificially inflating the cost of certain drugs, she explained.
Luria also mentioned the new rules for improving veteran access to medical care, established by the Veterans Affairs (VA) Mission Act recently signed into law.
She acknowledged the problem that Eastern Shore veterans have had traveling to the Hampton Roads VA Medical Center for care, a distance of “40 miles as the crow flies” that’s not so convenient when actual driving distances are considered.
The new rules will give Shore veterans “access to care within the community.”
Luria announced that she is leading a bipartisan effort to reauthorize funding for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup program of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), garnering applause from the audience.
The program has not formally been reauthorized since 2005. She and Congressman Rob Wittman are “pushing hard” for the bill that would fund the Chesapeake Bay Program for the next five years.
She was asked her opinion of the Waters of the United States bill that would prohibit the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from enforcing certain regulations of the use of the country’s waters and wetlands.
Luria said she has been asked to take sides “very aggressively” by both the environmental and agricultural communities. She has not made a final decision on her position, but she believes “we need to come to a medium that works for everyone.”