COVID-19 and health care become top priorities in Senate race as Iowans look to Congress for aid

U.S. Senate Democrats are pressing congressional leaders to help states prepare for COVID-19 vaccine distribution. (Photo by Getty Images)

As Iowa has remained one of the nation’s top COVID-19 hot spots for weeks in a row, the federal government’s response to the pandemic has risen as one of the central issues U.S. Senate candidates Joni Ernst and Theresa Greenfield talk about.

From unemployment benefits to workforce protections, the virus has raised general awareness to gaps in the country’s largest institutions, and particularly health care.

Conversations over insurance coverage, prescription drug prices and availability of medical supplies have become commonplace as the country navigates a “once-in-a-century” pandemic, but Republicans and Democrats have conflicting views over the role of the federal government in aiding constituents. 

Ernst, the Republican incumbent who is serving on the Small Business Administration committee in Congress, has worked on critical bills passing emergency loans to local businesses in need, as well as comprehensive measures as the CARES Act. Ernst and her political allies have accused Greenfield in TV ads of wanting to eliminate employer-provided health insurance, a claim Greenfield has repeatedly denied.

Greenfield, the Democratic challenger, has criticized Ernst’s congressional record, emphasizing the Republican’s votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act and arguing more needs to be done in the Senate to ensure Iowans are covered. Democrats are particularly emphasizing the urgency for action as the Supreme Court prepares to hear a case challenging the Affordable Care Act in November. If the court strikes down the Obama administration’s signature health plan, it could jeopardize coverage for millions of Americans.

The Greenfield campaign has also attacked Ernst for saying she was “skeptical” of COVID-19 death reports and suggesting health care workers had a financial incentive to inflate reports of virus deaths. Ernst has apologized for the comment. Meanwhile, Ernst has criticized Greenfield for opposing Senate Republicans’ “skinny” coronavirus stimulus package that failed to pass last month. Democrats said the $300 billion proposal was inadequate.

Below are the candidates’ stances on COVID-19 and health care coverage.

Medicare and the Affordable Care Act

Theresa Greenfield is a Democrat running for Iowa’s U.S. Senate seat. (Photo submitted by Theresa Greenfield campaign)

Greenfield

  • Does not support a single-payer health care system like Medicare for All.
  • Wants to preserve the Affordable Care Act and expand it by creating a public option to add competition to the marketplace. 
  • Supports requiring Medicare to negotiate on prescription drug costs, as well as capping prescription drug costs like Sen. Chuck Grassley’s plan.
A prerecorded segment of U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst played during the third day of the Republican National Convention Wednesday evening. (Screenshot of RNC)

Ernst

  • Supports a health care plan that continues to use federal and state dollars to provide a backstop for people with pre-existing conditions and complex medical needs.
  • Does not support the Affordable Care Act,
  • Wants to lower prescription drug prices and improve transparency in the health care system to learn more about services and how they’re negotiated between insurance companies and clinics.

COVID-19 response

Greenfield

  • Supports Congress passing a plan to increase manufacturing and distribution of free COVID-19 testing kids and personal protective equipment.
  • Wants to coordinate with the military to increase hospital beds in rural Iowa and improve capacity by lifting hospital bed limits and expanding telehealth services.
  • Proposes to provide more direct payments through a stimulus package, including an additional $1,200 for individuals and extending the weekly $600 unemployment benefits.

Ernst

  • Proposed a bill in Congress that suspends federal income and payroll taxes for “essential workers” like those who work in the restaurant and grocery industries.
  • Supports a second round of loans to businesses from the Personal Paycheck Protection program.
  • Introduced a bill providing nine months of financial assistance for child care providers who follow state health guidelines.