Some Democrats, namely U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, have been pushing for universal health insurance — a Medicare-for-all system that would ensure every American has comprehensive coverage for medical needs.
Dana Balter, a Democrat challenging Republican U.S. Rep. John Katko in the 24th Congressional District race, supports Medicare-for-all, but her vision of the program is different than Sanders', whose proposal would effectively eliminate the need for private health insurance companies.
At a town hall meeting earlier this month in Auburn, Balter explained her stance on Medicare-for-all. The big takeaway: She wants Medicare for all Americans that would provide a basic level of coverage, but believes private health insurance companies would — and should — continue to play a role.
"There certainly is a place for private insurance," Balter said in an interview with The Citizen. "I think that one of the things that works well about our current Medicare system is your ability as a Medicare recipient to purchase private insurance to supplement your Medicare plan."
She continued, "I think there is value in that for a number of reasons. I value the idea of a person's ability to make choices about what's best for themselves and I recognize that a standardized plan like we would see in Medicare may not suit everybody's needs for a number of reasons. They may need specialized care that's not covered, but they may also just have a different preference."
That preference, Balter said, could be a "luxury plan" that provides a much higher level of coverage than they would receive from a traditional Medicare plan. Private insurance companies, she added, could offer those plans and others for people who want more than what Medicare offers.
Balter doesn't believe Medicare-for-all should "force people into something they don't want." She doesn't support the notion that Medicare-for-all needs to eliminate private options for people. The goal, she said, is to guarantee that there is an adequate level of insurance.
"Beyond that, if you want more than adequate, have at it," she said. "Those two things are not mutually exclusive. Our current system shows that they work together very nicely, as do systems in other places around the world. That's the model that I think is going to suit the American context the best."
There is another reason Balter views her plan as a better approach for establishing a Medicare-for-all system: She believes it could have a better chance of receiving congressional approval if Democrats win control of the House and Senate.
One of the arguments against Sanders' plan, she noted, is that people like market-based activity. Those who oppose a Medicare-for-all system usually cite the free market as a reason why a single-payer health insurance program should be rejected.
But her plan would have another benefit: It would be easier to establish this version of Medicare-for-all administratively because it builds on what's in place now.
"We're not talking about building something entirely new," she said. "We're just talking about giving more people access to what we already have. We do need to make improvements to the current Medicare system. It is good, but it's not good enough. We need to make improvements to it, but we don't have to revamp the essential structure of it.
"It's there and it's functioning, and we know how to do it. So let's just make it bigger."
What committee assignments would Balter pursue?
In her wide-ranging interview with The Citizen, Balter revealed the committee assignments she would seek if elected to the House of Representatives.
At the top of her list: A spot on the House Agriculture Committee. New York has two members on the committee: U.S. Reps. John Faso, a Republican, and Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat.
The last Syracuse-area member of Congress to serve on the committee was U.S. Rep. Jim Walsh. Walsh's successors, former Reps. Dan Maffei, Ann Marie Buerkle and current Rep. John Katko, pursued other committee assignments.
Katko, R-Camillus, serves on the House Homeland Security and Transportation and Infrastructure committees.
Balter said she would pursue seats on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The Education and the Workforce committee, she explained, focuses on policy areas that are "central to improving the well-being of people here in central and western New York." And the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee would be important, she said, because of the role infrastructure will play in revitalizing the region's economy.
"I want to make sure that central and western New York voices are at the table as those policies are being crafted so that our needs are represented and the programs that we initiate have the kinds of elements in them that are going to bring the best results for us here at home."