In a face-to-face forum Tuesday in McHenry County, U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren and Democratic challenger Lauren Underwood sparred over a topic many have called the Republican Party’s Achilles’ heel: health care.
Underwood, a 32-year-old Naperville nurse diagnosed with a heart condition in elementary school, has lambasted the Plano Republican for voting in support of the American Health Care Act, a bill that aimed to repeal former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which forces insurers to cover pre-existing conditions.
Near the end of an hourlong forum organized by the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce and Industry at Stage Left Cafe, Hultgren – the 14th Congressional District’s representative since 2011 – called his challenger’s critiques of the American Health Care Act “lies” and offered insight about his interpretation of the 300-page law he voted for.
“Absolutely false,” Hultgren said of claims that people with pre-existing conditions are out of luck when it comes to an Obamacare repeal – a measure Hultgren voted for in 2017 before the legislation failed in the Senate. “An insurance company couldn’t even ask an individual if they have a pre-existing condition – if they’re continuing coverage – so if you’re moving from one insurance company to another one, the new one couldn’t even ask you if you have a pre-existing condition under our bill. Again, lies. It’s frustrating to me, but again, free speech, especially in political speech, is the least regulated of anything, so it is what it is.”
Underwood said the majority of people across the U.S. access health care through an employer-sponsored plan.
“So many small-business owners really have struggled to be able to find affordable coverage options for both themselves and their employees,” said Underwood, who shifted to politics after Obama appointed her a senior adviser in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “It is very clear out of the Affordable Care Act that insurance companies cannot discriminate against individuals like me who have a pre-existing condition.”
What the American Health Care Act did, Underwood said, was preserve something called “guarantee issue,” which rules that insurance companies cannot decline a person a plan – but they are allowed to charge different rates, “two times, 20 times, 200 times the cost.”
“Guarantee issue does not protect price for individuals,” she said.
Hultgren repeated to the audience at Stage Left Cafe that the American Health Care Act says insurances cannot ask about pre-existing conditions – as long as they are continuing coverage and not starting anew.
“Now, if they dropped off insurance and didn’t have any insurance for six months?” Hultgren said. “Then they could ask, and then there potentially would be a little bit of an adjustment. If they had dropped insurance [and] didn’t have any insurance, choosing to be on their own, and all of a sudden they’re looking for insurance, it’s kind of like getting fire insurance when your house is on fire.”