Wisconsin Senate Race: Tammy Baldwin, Leah Vukmir clash on health care

Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Republican challenger Leah Vukmir disagree on almost every public policy issue, from taxes to spending to abortion.

But it’s the battle over health care that could be the defining issue in Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race as the two candidates map out starkly different approaches.

Baldwin backs the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, and has signed on to the Medicare-for-all proposal by Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont.

Vukmir is a proponent of empowering consumers and driving down health care costs through market-based solutions. She wants to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Their views on health care are now front and center in the campaign.

On Wednesday, Baldwin challenged President Donald Trump over health care, rounding up 30 Democratic co-sponsors in hopes of forcing a vote to rescind an administration rule over short-term insurance policies.

Baldwin labeled the policies as “junk insurance” and said their expansion “can deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.”

On Thursday, it was Vukmir’s turn in the health care spotlight. She stood alongside Vice President Mike Pence and received praise for being a potential vote to ultimately do away with Obamacare.

Pence, in Milwaukee for a fundraiser for Vukmir, said Republicans made an effort to “fully repeal and replace Obamacare and we’ll continue with Leah Vukmir in the Senate, we’ll continue to go back to that.”

On Monday at Milwaukee’s Laborfest, Baldwin referred to Pence’s remarks and said: “If my opponent Leah Vukmir had been in the Senate she would have been the deciding vote to take people’s health care away …”

Health care is clearly a concern to voters. It was the top issue of the Senate race, chosen by 26% of respondents in a recent statewide poll of 500 likely voters by Suffolk University, conducted for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

That same poll found Baldwin leading Vukmir by 50 percent to 42 percent among registered voters.

Health care has been a major issue in the air wars in Wisconsin for Senate and congressional races, featured in 45 percent of the ads aired, according to the Wesleyan Media Project.

The Marquette University Law School Poll last surveyed voters on Obamacare in June 2017 and found 54 percent wanted Congress to keep and improve the law while an additional 6 percent wanted Congress to keep it as it was.

When discussing health care, Baldwin and Vukmir have both pointed to their personal experiences.

As a child, Baldwin suffered an illness and has said she was “branded with the words, ‘pre-existing condition.’ ” She has said she is fighting for other families with similar problems who won’t have to choose between getting the care their loved ones need and bankruptcy.

One of the features of the Affordable Care Act is that health insurers can no longer deny or charge more for coverage to those who have pre-existing medical conditions like asthma, diabetes or cancer.

Vukmir, a nurse, has seen health care from the perspective of both a provider and consumer and comes down on using the market to control costs. She has proposed “allowing insurers to offer a wider variety of plans” and enabling people to buy insurance across state lines.

“Make no mistake about it: patients with pre-existing conditions should be covered,” Vukmir said in a statement Friday. “People shouldn’t buy in to Tammy Baldwin’s lie that taking care of those who need pre-existing coverage and providing all Wisconsinites with more affordable options are mutually exclusive. Tammy Baldwin and her elitist Washington friends will say this isn’t possible, but we did it here in Wisconsin, and together we can find better solutions for healthcare.”

Before the Affordable Care Act, Wisconsin employed a high-risk pool model for those who could not obtain private insurance.

At the time, it was considered a model but helped only people who could afford health insurance. It covered around 20,000 people at rates that were generally 20 percent to 30 percent higher than the overall market. It was subsidized by a fee on health insurance sold in the state. Providers also agreed to accept lower than commercial rates.

Vukmir also attacked Baldwin for supporting Sanders’ Medicare-for-all proposal, a single-payer system.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution to fix health care, but I can tell you Baldwin’s ideas are exactly that, as proven by her support of a $32 trillion socialized, government takeover of health care,” Vukmir said, referring to a report from the libertarian-leaning Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

That think tank, which has received funding from entities controlled by the Koch brothers, projected federal spending would increase $32.6 trillion in 10 years under the Sanders proposal.

Supporters of the Sanders measure say a single-payer system would be simpler and save money.

Read more at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.