Rutgers forum brings N.J. healthcare to forefront of Lieutenant Governor's race
Last Saturday a crowd formed in the School of Management and Labor Relations building to hear from some of New Jersey’s candidates for lieutenant governor in regard to the future of healthcare.
The healthcare forum was sponsored by the New Jersey Universal Healthcare Coalition (NJUHC).
“NJUHC exists to build the movement in support of 'Medicare for All' at both the federal and state levels,” said Tom Knoche, the event organizer and member of the coalition.
"Medicare for All," a bill introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in mid-September, is the former presidential candidate's latest push for a single-payer health system, according to NPR.
Knoche said at the state level the coalition is advocating for legislation to direct the federal government to include all New Jersey residents in Medicare.
The lieutenant governor candidates in attendance were Lisa Durden of the Green Party, Karese Laguerre of the Libertarian Party and April Johnson of the We The People Party. The first of five mandatory questions to start the forum asked whether candidates would support legislation for universal healthcare for all New Jersey residents.
Laguerre said, “I 100 percent really identify with the fact that we as humans need affordable, quality healthcare. However, I do not feel that universal healthcare is the best way to go about that."
She went on to explain her position and said that people in the upper class have good access to healthcare, while people in the middle and lower classes often have limited access or access at a higher cost.
Laguerre said that including everyone in one government subsidy program will not provide people with the highest quality of healthcare providers, and will continue to hurt the middle and lower class.
“I am a nurse professional so I am very aware of what Medicare does and what it doesn’t do, so I am on the fence in saying if I support it or if I don’t support it,” Johnson said in response to that same question.
Johnson said that Medicare covers a lot of benefits such as a primary care physician, nursing homes and private care.
What it does not cover, she said, is long-term care at home and in the hospital. Johnson said that there are people who are at home or bedridden and require 24-hour assistance, and they are not covered.
“That’s why I say I’m on the fence with it. If Medicare would add additional benefits that would extend the plan to more than what it currently covers, then I might be more inclined to say yes,” Johnson said.
Durden, on the other hand, said she supports universal healthcare.
She said that currently, employers pay 83 percent of healthcare premiums and that that is a lot.
“When we decide to go to single-payer 'Medicare for All,' those things go away,” Durden said, referring to how single-payer Medicare could save employers money.
Following the mandatory questions was a Q&A period, where the candidates were asked how healthcare affects college students.
“The current system would stand as it is. If you qualify, and you should qualify as a college student, for NJ Family Care then you would apply for that and you would get that, or you would remain on your parent’s coverage,” Laguerre said with regard to her party’s policies.
Johnson said the Affordable Care Act (ACA) did well for college students because it allows for young people to stay on their parent’s insurance plan until the age of 26.
Durden spoke similarly about the benefits of the ACA and said it is good that young people can stay on their parent’s coverage longer because not everyone leaves college with a job right away.
She also said that single-payer healthcare in New Jersey would have cost-saving benefits for students and universities.
“Currently all colleges and universities have to have healthcare for students. That’s a huge percentage of the (University’s) budget that goes into making sure that you have healthcare,” Durden said.
Durden said that under a single-payer healthcare plan, colleges would be able to take that line item and use it for something else. By reducing that budget line the cost of education can go down.
Knoche said the coalition tries to hold informative programs when they have their general membership meetings twice a year.
The inspiration for the healthcare forum came with the upcoming gubernatorial election in New Jersey, Knoche said, the coalition wanted to learn about the level of support for 'Medicare for All' among the lieutenant governor candidates.