BALDWINSVILLE — Health care dominated the conversation at a joint town hall meeting Thursday featuring the candidates for the 50th Senate District seat.
Republican candidate Bob Antonacci and Democratic nominee John Mannion answered questions at Baldwinsville Public Library for nearly 45 minutes, and most of the inquiries focused on health care. Specifically, one attendee wanted to know where the candidates stand on the New York Health Act.
The New York Health Act would establish a state-level, single-payer health insurance system. Democrats in the state Legislature support the bill. Republicans in the state Senate, however, have blocked the measure from advancing in the chamber.
Antonacci opposes the New York Health Act. He acknowledged, though, that health care is a major issue. He believes it's important to help those who are uninsured and address other challenges, such as prescription drug costs and transparency in health insurance premiums.
One concern he has is the potential cost of the program. Conservative estimates, he noted, suggest the state budget would double and taxes would quadruple if the single-payer plan is adopted.
"I don't think the New York Health Act is the way to go," he said.
Mannion supports the legislation because the current system, he argued, is set up for failure. He has talked to young professionals who have high health insurance costs. Individuals with chronic medical conditions have paid thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs for hospital stays. And he's met small business owners whose health insurance premiums increased by 22 percent.
The high premiums, he said, prevent businesses from hiring more workers and raising wages.
In his view, the state's program should be modeled after Medicare. There is a proposal at the federal level for a Medicare-for-all program. Medicare, he said, "works very well."
While Mannion supports the New York Health Act, he said it must be enacted with careful consideration of the costs involved.
"I'll make sure that happens, or I simply won't vote for it," he said.
The candidates were asked about a mailer highlighting Antonacci's opposition to the Reproductive Health Act, a bill that would codify Roe v. Wade into state law and decriminalize abortion. The mailer, which was sent by the New York State Democratic Committee and the New York State Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, incorrectly attributed a quote to Antonacci.
Antonacci blasted Mannion for the mailer and dismissed the attack as "fearmongering." While he opposes the Reproductive Health Act, he doesn't believe Roe v. Wade is being threatened.
"Even if it did, New York state legalized abortion in 1970," he said.
For Antonacci, there are more important issues, such as families leaving the state and job losses. He said he wouldn't make overturning Roe v. Wade a priority.
Mannion discussed his support of the Reproductive Health Act by recalling a conversation with his mother. She had two miscarriages when she became pregnant again, and had another miscarriage in the seventh month of pregnancy. She was forced to carry through with the pregnancy, despite her health being in jeopardy.
The Reproductive Health Act, Mannion said, would bring the state's laws into the 21st century.
"I want to make sure that in New York state, that choice stays with a woman and a woman can have that conversation with her doctor," he added.
Both candidates expressed support for initiatives to help create jobs for those without college degrees. Mannion wants to get schools more involved in linking students with jobs in the technical trades. Antonacci, the son of a union electrician, said he recently visited a tractor trailer school that is "begging for applicants." They both discussed the need for apprenticeships and training programs to connect young people with job opportunities.
On whether the state should pick up the local share of Medicaid, Antonacci is a proponent of the proposal. It's an idea that's part of Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro's platform, and could ease the local tax burden.
Antonacci wants local taxpayers to pay for county services, not state mandates.
"There are some potential reforms that we can make," he said.
Mannion fell short of endorsing the plan for the state to cover the local share of Medicaid. He is open to the idea, especially if the efficiency of the program can be increased and the same level of service can be provided.
"It would have to be looked at is what I would say," he explained.
It was the second joint town hall meeting in the 50th district campaign. Mannion scheduled the town halls and issued an open invitation to Antonacci. While Antonacci didn't attend the first in Camillus, he joined Mannion for a joint appearance last week in North Syracuse.
Mannion has two more town hall meetings planned before the election. The next forum is 5:30 p.m. Monday at the East Syracuse Fire Department Community Room. The town hall series concludes at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23 at the Boyle Center in Auburn.
Antonacci hasn't publicly announced if he will attend the forums, but said in a recent interview that he is open to appearing at both events.