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Health overhaul rhetoric intensifies on campaign trail

In a debate Friday, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., "accused Republican challenger Ron Johnson of wanting to replace the program with a system that puts insurance companies in control," The Associated Press reports. "Johnson, who calls the health care law an assault on personal freedoms, countered that the nation's health care system was already the finest in the world, and needed only minor tweaks to become even better. … Johnson has often said the main reason he entered the race was to help repeal the law. He slightly modified his strategy Friday, saying the GOP shouldn't move to repeal until it has an alternative in hand." The businessman said he would keep the "provision that prevents insurance companies from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions" (Ramde, 10/9).

The Wall Street Journal: "Despite polls showing that voters remain skeptical of the law, Sen. Feingold two weeks ago started running television ads that boast of his support of it. … The move comes as Mr. Feingold has fallen nearly 10 points behind Mr. Johnson in recent polls, a dramatic turnaround for a three-term incumbent widely considered a hero to liberals. … Democratic strategists say other incumbents are weaving their 'yes' votes into campaigns by championing the health-care issue during debates, writing newspaper editorials and holding roundtable discussions on the law's early benefits" (Belkin and Adamy, 10/11).

The Detroit Free Press: Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., is defending his health vote as well. During a debate Sunday, Peters "was the target of politicians to the left and right of him, as well as people in the crowd unhappy with his vote for health care reform. … Three candidates — Republican Andrew (Rocky) Raczkowski, Green Party candidate Douglas Campbell and Independent Bob Gray — said they would vote to repeal the health care reform bill passed earlier this year. But Campbell said he would replace it with a socialized medicine system, such as what Canada has." Peters said he feels the law is "critical to provide affordable, accessible health care for all Americans, noting that it does a variety of important things, like prohibit insurance companies from rescinding coverage for people who get sick and allow children to stay on their parents' insurance benefits until age 26" (Gray, 10/11).

In the meantime, the Republican candidate for Senate in Kentucky, Rand Paul, "raised the idea Sunday that wealthier people like his opponent, the co-owner of a Kentucky Derby horse, should pay more for Medicare coverage," The Associated Press reports in a second story. "The Democrat's campaign accused Paul of flip-flopping on Medicare," saying he once touted the idea of a $2,000 deductible for Medicare, something he disputes. "'If you own a racehorse like my opponent, or if you're Bill Gates, do you think maybe you should spend more and pay more for the cost of Medicare?' Paul said, adding that taxes won't adequately cover Medicare costs" (Schreiner, 10/10).

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that about 200 people heard "U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.) debate his Democratic challenger, Manan Trivedi, in their first of two debates. Although instructed to remain silent during the debate, audience members cheered and booed with relish as the candidates sparred over health care, tax cuts, and the influence of money in politics. No issue brought more racket than health care, which pits the two on starkly opposing sides. Gerlach, 55, a four-term incumbent from Chester Springs, said he would repeal and replace the health-care bill, drawing loud applause and howls of booing" (Farrell, 10/11).

Politico: In the governor's race in California, Republican sources have "provided a 15-year-old video of the Democratic gubernatorial hopeful dismissing mammograms in an old interview. … The comment about mammograms came during an episode of 'Firing Line' in October 1995, when Brown was a guest on the William F. Buckley Jr. show. He sat alongside feminist and commentator Susan Estrich during a discussion about government regulations that dealt with the death of the Clinton administration health reform proposal. Estrich discussed the component of the plan that had dealt with mammograms. 'Can we get off of mammograms?' Brown interjected. 'I mean, first of all, if you read the Lancet Magazine in July, there's no statistical evidence that mammograms help anyone at any age. So it's July 1995, Lancet Magazine. Okay? It's there. Now I don't want to argue that case,' he added, as Estrich started to object. 'I just want to throw it out there.'" Brown is running against Republican Meg Whitman (Haberman 10/9).

Finally, a new study from The Washington Post, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University "shows that most Americans who say they want more limited government also call Social Security and Medicare 'very important,'" The Washington Post reports. "They want Washington to be involved in schools and to help reduce poverty. Nearly half want the government to maintain a role in regulating health care" (Cohen and Balz, 10/10). (Kaiser Health News is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.)

KHN summarized news on other political debates that happened over the weekend, Charges And Counter-Charges On Health Law Infiltrate Political Debates (10/10).

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Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent news service. It is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health-care-policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., (above) and Republican challenger Ron Johnson have made health-care reform and efforts to repeal it a centerpiece of their Senate battle.