VIDEO: Express News Group Hosts 1st Congressional District Debate

The Express News Group hosted a congressional debate on Monday night.

Express News Group Congressional Debate from on Vimeo.

Democratic congressional candidate Nancy Goroff says that she would support efforts to stabilize and expand the Affordable Care Act and give all Americans the option of paying to join the Medicare insurance plan now used only by senior citizens as an avenue to giving more Americans a more affordable option for quality healthcare insurance.

“Right now,” she sighed at a recent dabate, “there are not very many people I talk to who like their private insurance.”

Incumbent Republican U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin, who Ms. Goroff is challenging for the 1st Congressional District seat, said that he sees extensive problems with the way the ACA, or “Obamacare,” is currently working and has a long list of alternative policies that he would advocate for in a replacement law should the U.S. Supreme Court strike it down in a ruling that could come as early as next month.

The pair’s stark differences in healthcare thinking were the laid out in their final face-to-face debate on Monday night, hosted by The Express News Group.

Mr. Zeldin, who has voted with his fellow Republicans in the House on more than a dozen various bills that would have repealed the ACA had they passed, said that he supports a new approach to healthcare with accommodations that will increase competition among insurance companies to help bring down prices, with some government controls on pricing to protect senior citizens from mushrooming prescription drug bills.

“A one-size fits all, government-knows-best approach out of Washington is not the answer,” Mr. Zeldin said. “There are ways to allow small businesses to better pool their policies and take policies across state lines. We need tort reform to bring down medical malpractice rates. If you are an OBGYN on the South Fork, you are getting hammered. You need to make hundreds of thousands of dollars to just pay your medical malpractice [insurance] bills. I support HR-19, to reduce the cost of prescription drugs and cap out of pocket costs seniors and … to bring generics to market faster.”

Mr. Zeldin pushed back against an accusation by Ms. Goroff that he has voted against protecting Americans from insurance companies refusing them coverage if they have pre-existing conditions, via his votes against the ACA. He offered that the failed Republican replacement legislation he voted in favor of in 2017 would have protected against the loss of insurance because of pre-existing conditions — though congressional Republicans have never been able to muster enough of their members to pass a bill that does so.

“I very strongly, totally support covering individuals with pre-existing conditions,” Mr. Zeldin said. But he said that the hobbled ACA has left residents of some areas of the country without affordable options for health insurance. “We have an issue right now in the individual market where for so many counties you are down to only one option left under the exchange.”

Mr. Zeldin said that his opponent has voiced support for just such a so-called “single-payer” healthcare system, through which the federal government would effectively act as the sole health insurer for Americans and levy taxes instead of premiums.

“I strongly oppose going to single-payer, I believe it would be disastrous,” Mr. Zeldin said. “It means we are going to end up with a lower quality of care, we are going to end up with a ridiculously higher cost in order to provide services, there will be a reduction in choice, and you have the elimination of private health insurance, which I have an issue with as well.”

Ms. Goroff said she does not believe a single-payer system would work with the American healthcare system at the current moment — though she said that there are “things about a single-payer system that I do think are advantageous as a long-term goal. But I don’t see us being there anytime soon.”

She said that she has not been a supporter of the “Medicare For All” approach — essentially a single-payer arrangement — that some Democrats have advocated for in the run-up to this year’s election.

Rather, she said, Congress and the White House should bolster the ACA to reassure insurance companies that it is going to remain in effect, boosting participation in more regions of the country. She blamed congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump for hamstringing the program by starving it of funding and ending the “individual mandate” that was a key financial leg of the program and now puts it in danger of being struck down entirely by new Republican-led court challenges. She has said that more than 70,000 residents of the 1st Congressional District benefit from the law currently.

By bolstering the existing law and adding the option of buying into Medicare, she said, the federal government could immediately introduce a competitive choice for both individuals and small businesses looking for more affordable options to insure their employees.

“What I believe is the right step next … is that we allow people to buy into Medicare as an option. If it’s less good, then the private options are available to them, the choice will be clear and people will continue to use their private health insurance and we’ll have to figure out other ways to make the system better.

“If, on the other hand, that public option works really well for people then people will choose that,” she added. “Let’s give them that choice.