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posted: 9/18/2020 5:30 AM

14th Congressional race: How Underwood, Oberweis differ on health care

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One of the candidates for Illinois' 14th Congressional District seat, incumbent Democrat Lauren Underwood of Naperville, believes health care is a human right that should be afforded to everyone.

The Republican candidate, state Sen. Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove, said Americans have a right to basic and lifesaving health care, but wouldn't clarify whether he sees it as a human right or one mandated by the U.S. Constitution.

Underwood and Oberweis spoke about health care and other issues last week during a joint, online meeting with editors and reporters from the Daily Herald and Shaw Media, as well as in other interviews.

Underwood, a registered nurse who's seeking a second term in the House, declared health care is a human right while answering a question about the Affordable Care Act. She helped implement that legislation while working for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Underwood said she's worked in Congress to ensure people with preexisting medical conditions remain insured and to lower the costs of prescription drugs, including insulin.

"Right now, too many of our neighbors are avoiding checkups, cutting pills in half, or forgoing treatment because of cost," Underwood said. "That's unacceptable."

Underwood said she also supports increasing access to affordable, high-quality health care, including maternal, mental health and reproductive care.

"Reproductive health care is health care," said Underwood, who has worked as an administrator with a Medicaid-managed care plan in Chicago and as a nursing school instructor.

Underwood criticized President Donald Trump for suing to dismantle the Affordable Care Act during the COVID-19 pandemic.

After Underwood made her comment about health care being a human right, Oberweis said he believes "in the right to life."

The Daily Herald asked Oberweis in a subsequent email if he thought health care was a human right, a legal right or a service. He responded: "Every American has a right to basic and life saving health care regardless of ability to pay."

Neither he nor a campaign spokesman would elaborate.

As for the Affordable Care Act, Oberweis has said he'd support repealing and replacing it. In a public debate during his unsuccessful 2014 Senate bid, Oberweis called it a "disaster." In public comments during this campaign, Oberweis said the law needs to be fixed but some elements should be kept, such as coverage for preexisting conditions.

When asked for clarification, a campaign spokesman said Oberweis would support repealing the law and replacing it with a different one if that would fix its flaws. But he also said Oberweis would support efforts to amend the law if that would improve it.

Oberweis said he favors more transparency about how much medical services cost so consumers can shop around.

"People want to know what these services cost," Oberweis said. "And secondly, we need to have more competition to help bring down prices."

Oberweis also supports allowing pharmacies to re-import American-made prescription drugs from Canada, where the government limits retail prices.

"Those prices are going to equalize very quickly," he said. "Otherwise, Americans would just buy their prescriptions from the CVS in Montreal or Toronto."

Oberweis opposes the concept of a single-payer, government-run health care system.

Underwood said a single-payer system is one way to achieve universal health care coverage, and she said that's "a great goal."

The 14th District includes parts of DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, Will, DeKalb and Kendall counties.