U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL,10) and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle discussed the importance of the Affordable Care Act with Illinoisans who have benefited from the health reform law at a Tuesday roundtable discussion in Des Plaines.
At the small gathering, held at the Frisbie Senior Center, Schneider criticized his Republican opponent, former one-term Congressman Bob Dold, for voting several times while in Congress to repeal or weaken the president's signature health reform law.
"When my opponent was in Congress, every time the Republicans brought an effort to fully repeal the Affordable Care Act — not some of the times, but every time — he voted with Republicans" to repeal it, said Schneider, who unseated Dold in 2012 and is seeking a second term. "In contrast ... I have not voted for repeal and I will not vote for repeal. We need to move forward."
"No one is going to say that the rollout last time was perfect, but you learn your lessons," he added. "You make it better and you continue to do that year after year. And what you can't fix, we'll find another way to do it."
Preckwinkle noted that 92,000 people who were previously uninsured now have coverage through CountyCare, Cook County's Medicaid program for adults that launched in 2012 as part of the ACA.
The Cook County Board president also slammed Dold for his voting record on health care.
"Dold likes to portray himself as a moderate Republican," Preckwinkle said. "When you vote against access to health care for so many ordinary working people, that doesn't sound like moderation to me. And especially the idea that he voted 28 times to defund or restrict or diminish the coverage of the Affordable Care Act is particularly troubling, given our own experience in Cook County."
A Dold spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.
During a joint appearance with Schneider before the Chicago Tribune editorial board earlier this month, Dold acknowledged there are some positive aspects of the ACA, like the ban on denying health coverage because of pre-existing conditions. But the Republican stressed that "there's a lot of things we have to do to fix it."
"It doesn't address cost or quality of health care," the former congressman said.
At the discussion, Waukegan resident Kai Mays, 20, discussed how she was able to get surgery for a serious brain AVM, or an arteriovenous malformation, four months ago thanks to her new health coverage through the ACA. Mays was previously uninsured.
Grayslake resident Martin Wentzell called the ACA a "miracle" because it allowed his college-aged son, who has Crohn's disease, to stay on his insurance plan until the age of 26. And under the ACA, his son cannot be denied insurance in the future because of his pre-existing health condition.
Maureen Statland, a geriatric care manager from Northbrook, talked about her attempt in 2010 to obtain health insurance on her own because her employer did not provide it. At that time, three different insurance companies denied her coverage, because they "didn't like that I had acid reflux and took prescription medication, and they didn't like that as a woman, in my then mid-40s, I had some irregularities in my monthly cycle."
"Really common, not difficult to treat, not really unusual or life-threatening problems, but that was enough at that time for them to deny me coverage," she said. "It was very exciting last year with the rollout of the full Affordable Care Act to be able to call my same insurance agent and say, 'Can I buy an insurance policy through you?' ... The approval came back in five minutes."
After ACA success stories were shared, Schneider asked the roundtable attendees what a rollback in health reform progress would mean for them.
"Personally, it would be a burden financially for me. I'm retired. I work part-time," said Enrico Chiappetta, an Ingleside resident with four children. "I can't afford what I used to be able to afford."
Preckwinkle responded that the 92,000 people who obtained coverage through CountyCare "would be out of luck." And the Cook County health care system would also "see a real shrinking in resources devoted to it," because the federal government provides financial support for the county's Medicaid expansion.
The nationally-watched rematch between Schneider and Dold, meanwhile, is one of the most competitive House races in Illinois and the country.
A new poll shows Schneider with an 8-point lead over Dold, at 48 percent to 40 percent, respectively, with 11 percent of voters undecided. The poll of 400 likely midterm election voters in the 10th congressional district was conducted jointly by Lester & Associates and Global Strategy Group on behalf of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The poll, conducted on October 4 through October 6, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent.
Schneider highlighted how he and his Republican challenger differ on other issues when asked about the high-profile race after the meeting.
"My opponent voted twice for ending the Medicare guarantee. That's an anxiety" for 10th district residents, Schneider said. "They want to make sure that we're fighting for the progress we made on marriage equality, LGBT issues, workforce security, the idea of women making their own choices about their own health care. We've come so far in the last generation. They don't want to go back."
"Our race is kind of that bellwether race," the congressman continued. "Two candidates. Each of us have been in office once. He voted to end the Medicare guarantee when he voted for the Ryan plan, not once but twice. He voted 200 times against the environment. He voted 28 times against the Affordable Care Act. At least seven times against women's choices. By contrast, I want to keep [the] Medicare guarantee. I want to make sure the Affordable Care Act is strong, and make it stronger. I want to make sure we protect our environment, restore the Great Lakes and I am 100 percent pro-choice. Those are some real differences in this race."