8th Congressional District candidates discuss Social Security, Medicare / Medicaid, health care and COVID-19 | Election


The 8th Congressional District race pits incumbent U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, a Moosic Democrat, against management/communications consultant and former Trump administration official Jim Bognet, a Hazle Twp. Republican, in the Nov. 3 election.

The district includes all of Lackawanna, Pike and Wayne counties and parts of Luzerne and Monroe counties. Representatives serve two-year terms and earn $174,000 a year. The Sunday Times asked Bognet and Cartwright their positions on various issues. Their positions on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, health care and COVID-19 appear today. Their positions on the economy and policing will appear in Monday’s edition.

Social Security

Facts: The main Social Security trust fund and a separate fund that pays disability benefits will hit zero by 2035, triggering a 21% benefit cut, according to the Social Security trustees’ 2020 report. Last year, about 64 million people received benefits.

The most-discussed solutions center on raising the payroll tax or the cap on income subject to the tax, cuts to future benefit increases or a combination of each.

Cartwright: He’s cosponsoring a bill he says will solve the funding shortfall for 75 years. The bill would increase benefits an average of 2% a year and tie cost-of-living adjustments to inflation based on elderly consumer spending. The bill would also set minimum benefits of at least 25% above the poverty line and cut taxes for more than 10 million senior citizens. To pay for it, the payroll tax on employees and employers would rise from 6.2% to 7.4% over 23 years. The tax would apply to income up to a variable cap — $137,700 of earned income this year — and income above $400,000. Bognet: Calling the program “incredibly important” and promising to ensure its survival, he says the best solution is “to get the economy growing again.”

“The more both employers and employees pay into the trust fund …. the better off we are,” Bognet said. Cartwright proposed the same idea when he first ran for Congress in 2012, though he doesn’t offer that as a main solution now.

Bognet said he opposes raising the payroll tax because he’s against higher taxes.

A Cartwright TV commercial accuses Bognet of favoring Social Security cuts. As evidence, the commercial uses a video clip of Bognet talking about “entitlement reform” on C-SPAN on behalf of 2008 presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The term generally refers to financially stabilizing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Romney worried entitlements would consume a growing share of the federal budget. The clip does not mention cutting benefits and Bognet denies he wants to do that.

Medicare/Medicaid/health care

Facts: Spending will deplete the main Medicare trust fund by 2026, but the next president will have to start acting on a fix next year, according to the Medicare trustees. Last year, Medicare covered 61.2 million people. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, increased health insurance coverage by expanding Medicaid eligibility and subsidizing private insurance, reducing the number of uninsured by 19 million between 2010 and 2018, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The act forbids insurance companies from denying coverage to people with preexisting medical conditions, allows children on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26, and closes a gap in Medicare prescription drug coverage for senior citizens.

When they controlled both houses of Congress, Republicans regularly voted to repeal the act and did away with a requirement that everyone have insurance, but never approved a comprehensive replacement.

Cartwright: A House Appropriations Committee member, he said he has regularly and successfully fought Trump administration budget proposals to slash Medicare (a proposed $500 million cut this year) and Medicaid funding (a proposed $900 million cut this year). He also opposed a Republican plan to turn Medicaid into a block grant program because that would cut enrollment.

He favors lowering Medicare prescription drug costs by allowing the program to leverage its size to negotiate lower prices with drug companies.

Cartwright wants to preserve and improve Obamacare and allow people to buy into Medicare as a public option to keep private insurance premiums down.

Bognet: He argues Democrats favor socialized medicine and said saving Medicare should be part of a larger reform of the nation’s health care system that focuses on transparency in billing and market-based solutions. If more people know a medical service’s cost, they could shop for lower prices, he said.

Bognet routinely calls the Affordable Care Act “a disaster.” Reminded of its benefits, Bognet said some people lost existing coverage despite President Barack Obama’s declaration that wouldn’t happen and the act taxes more expensive health insurance benefits. He called for more innovation, for example, encouraging the development of more surgery centers to handle operations rather than costlier hospitals.

He favors keeping protections on preexisting conditions, funding to close the prescription drug doughnut hole and better cost controls.

He opposes allowing people to buy into Medicare because he thinks that would weaken its shaky finances.

He wants to reform Medicaid because costs keep rising, partly because undocumented immigrants tap into the benefits, which he said he wants to outlaw.

COVID-19

Facts: More than 207,000 Americans have died from the virus and more than 7.2 million have contracted it. Cartwright: He calls for a better, federally coordinated effort to ensure every hospital and state has sufficient masks, shields, gloves, hand sanitizer and other personal protective equipment. In July, Cartwright signed on to cosponsor bills to establish a strategy to end dependence on imported drugs and require the federal government to maintain industrial production capacity to boost the national stockpile of medical equipment to fight pandemics. Bognet: He criticizes Cartwright for cosponsoring the bills only days before airing a TV commercial promoting his support for one of the bills.

He said states need flexibility to fight the coronavirus without federal government involvement because the virus spread differently from state to state. He said the Trump administration correctly stepped in when it was necessary to ensure manufacturers would supplement necessary supplies. He said he thinks the administration has managed the pandemic well.

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