Health care, rising costs fuel debate

Attacks fly as 25th District candidates meet in first debate.
Thursday, July 22, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:40 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

Democrat Mike Blum didn’t shy away from opportunities to attack Republican Joel Jeffries during a forum Wednesday for candidates in the 25th District House race.

From the remaining four Democratic candidates — Judy Baker, Russell Breyfogle, D. Duane Dimmitt and Lara Underwood, Jeffries got a more cordial welcome during his first formal appearance with them at back-to-back forums at Lenoir Retirement Center and Paquin Towers.

Stepping away from their usual funding for education talk, the candidates played more to the concerns of their respective audiences: health care, prescription drug prices and services and rights for people with disabilities.

The candidates all agreed on the inefficiencies of the Medicare prescription drug act of 2003 and referred to the “doughnut hole” that won’t cover drug costs between $2,251 and $5,100 a year.

Jeffries, an orthopedic surgeon and member of the Family Health Center board of directors, is running unopposed on the Republican ticket in the Aug. 3 primary for the House seat being vacated by Vicki Riback Wilson. He joined the Democratic candidates in suggesting that the Senior Rx program “be crafted” to fill in the “doughnut hole.”

One man in attendance at Lenoir who suffers from lung cancer described a recent encounter with Medicare benefits after his doctor prescribed him a new drug that would cost $2,000 per month. “What am I and other people going to do?” he said. “Give up a meal to get a pill?”

The candidates unanimously shook their heads in disbelief, but the like-minded tone didn’t last long.

“That piece of legislation sat on the floor” of the Missouri House “for a very long time and the Republican party passed on the chance to fill in that $3,000 hole,” Blum said.

“Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell, Ken Jacob and Peter Kinder sponsored a bipartisan piece of legislation that was never passed,” Underwood added. “It was a beautiful piece of legislation.”

Jeffries turned the discussion in another direction. “I deal with this every day. We have to address the disparity between what we’re paying and what’s paid in other countries. In Canada they have drug control costs so we end up subsidizing their research and development costs,” Jeffries said.

The candidates also addressed malpractice insurance reform, a topic that also split along partisan lines.

The candidates generally agreed with most of the issues related to people with disabilities at the Paquin Towers forum, including funding for independent living and representing the disenfranchised.

But after Jeffries detailed his own conflicts with insurance companies, Blum responded, “The Democrats are a party that fights for the disenfranchised. Why would someone who has had to fight so much against insurance companies run as a Republican?”

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