2nd District candidates differ on future of ACA, how to fight COVID

By: - October 25, 2020 12:58 pm

An unidentified emergency room physician who allegedly caused the death of a patient in 2017 has continued to see patients with no restrictions on his license while posing a “high risk” to the public, according to the Iowa Board of Medicine. (Photo via Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners)

The candidates for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District seat agree that more needs to be done to fight COVID-19 and other health threats, but differ on how to proceed.

For example, Democrat Rita Hart supports a national mask mandate to fight the coronavirus pandemic; Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks doesn’t.

Hart, of Wheatland, said she has heard more about COVID-19 than any other issue in the campaign. 

“That is the number one issue that people have been talking about in this campaign,” Hart said. 

That’s in part because many question the federal government’s handling of health-care issues.

The United States “has not done well” with its response to the pandemic, Hart said. Iowa is a hot spot, she added.

Former Iowa Sen. Rita Hart is running for Congress in the 2nd District. (Photo courtesy of Hart campaign)

“We certainly don’t like the fact that we’re in the top handful of the states that have the highest infection rates,” Hart said in an interview. “People cannot get back to work and stay at work as long as the infection rates are too high.”

In a separate interview, Miller-Meeks, of Ottumwa, praised President Donald Trump for limiting travel to the U.S. from China and Europe earlier this year to help slow the spread of COVID-19, but added that the work to improve testing could have been quicker. 

She added that the coronavirus pandemic has shown the U.S. needs to bolster its manufacturing of pharmaceuticals. “We do need to diversify our supply chain,” Miller-Meeks said. 

The nation also needs to do a better job of getting supplies in place in advance of pandemics, Miller-Meeks said. “We can pay companies to store supplies so we don’t have a strategic stockpile that is wholly outdated and expired and unusable,” she added.

Iowa state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks is running for Congress in District 2. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Senate)

Miller-Meeks and Hart are running for the seat being vacated by retiring Democrat Dave Loebsack. Miller-Meeks is a state senator who has run for Congress three times unsuccessfully. Hart is a  former state senator who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2018.

Here is a sampling of the candidates’ other views on health issues.

Affordable Care Act

Hart: Supports it

Miller-Meeks: Wants to change it

Miller-Meeks, an Ottumwa ophthamologist and former director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, said ACA has fallen short on two of her top goals for health care.

“On health care, it needs to be affordable, accessible and portable,” Miller-Meeks said in an interview. “What we found is that the Affordable Care Act was none of those things.”

In an Iowa PBS debate, Miller-Meeks said ACA has failed to get control of insurance costs. “We still find premiums are continuing to increase,” Miller-Meeks said. “I’ve talked with individuals, with business owners, I listen to the struggles that they have. And so portability, accessibility, increase in accessibility is still problem.”

Miller-Meeks said Congress needs to come up with a plan now, in case the U.S. Supreme Court throws out all or part of the ACA.

“There’s still more work to be done and given that this is coming up to the Supreme Court next month, I think that Congress needs to in a bipartisan way, both parties get together and work on what happens should the ACA be overturned,” Miller-Meeks said. “We don’t know if it will be, but we need to start working on that provision now and make sure people continue to have coverage and pre-existing conditions are covered as well.”

Hart said Iowans’ personal health care challenges have become clear on the campaign trail.

“Everybody has a personal story of someone who is affected by the fact that maybe they can’t get insurance or they used to not be able to get insurance and then the ACA made it so preexisting conditions would be covered by insurance companies. That’s such a big difference in their life.”

Hart said a key is reducing the price of prescription drugs.

“I talked to a gentleman that pre-pandemic would travel up to Canada several times a year because he could fill his prescriptions there 20 times cheaper,” Hart said. “It’s really important that we get this so people are in good shape with health care with access and affordability.”

The current fight to scrap ACA is misguided, Hart said.

“The first thing is, we can’t go backwards. And that is why it is disappointing that the health care lawsuit is being pursued by the (Trump) administration,” Hart said.


Hart said Congress should consider allowing people to buy into the program. She also would like to see Medicare negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs. 

Miller-Meeks said the nation needs to “honor that contract” with Americans, but also needs to address financial deficits in the Medicare program. But she has consistently opposed “Medicare for all.”

In a campaign video online, Miller-Meeks said, “We know that reforming the health care system in the United States isn’t going to be a Medicare for all program, because it doesn’t give you choice. It’s a government bureaucrat making decisions for you … on the most intimate parts of your life, and that is your health care choices and those of your family, or of your friends and neighbors,” she said.

Democrat Rita Hart, left, and Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks debated on Iowa PBS Sept. 24. (Screenshot from Iowa PBS)

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Senior reporter Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.