ELECTION 2020

Hart and Miller-Meeks spar over health care

U.S. House rivals face off in televised debate

Democratic candidate Rita Hart, left, and Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks prepare Thursday for the opening of the U.
Democratic candidate Rita Hart, left, and Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks prepare Thursday for the opening of the U.S. Congressional District 2 debate Thursday at KWQC-TV6 in Davenport. (Bobby Metcalf/Quad City Times)

DAVENPORT — Candidates running for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District found some common ground during a televised debate Thursday, but continued to spar over health care.

Democrat Rita Hart and Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks met in Davenport for a debate hosted by the Quad-City Times and KWQC TV6.

They are vying to replace U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D- Iowa City, who is not seeking reelection.

The district includes Johnson County and most of the southeastern part of the state.

Both candidates said they were committed to working across party lines to deliver legislation for Iowans.

Hart, a former Democratic state senator from Wheatland, said if elected, the first bill she would sign would be House Democrats’ sweeping anti-corruption and pro-democracy reform bill known as HR 1.

“Because people don’t have faith in the system,” Hart said. “They don’t think their vote counts. They’re worried or they don’t believe that public officials are there for the right reasons.”

Hart said she supports legislation that would bar members of Congress from ever becoming lobbyists, as well as banning members from holding individual stocks, and supports legislation that aims to end gerrymandering and provide campaign finance reform.

Miller-Meeks, an Ottumwa ophthalmologist and former director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, said she is running to provide “health care that is affordable, that’s accessible, that’s portable, but still allows you to have choice.”

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Hart again criticized Miller-Meeks for her past support of repealing the Affordable Care Act, the President Barack Obama-era health care law that has been thrust into the spotlight with the pending confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. Democrats fear Barrett’s confirmation will clinch a conservative effort to overturn the law without a legislative solution in place, endangering health care for millions during a pandemic.

“To me, that is just the wrong approach,” Hart said. “We ought to be taking what we have now and improving it. I definitely agree that we have got to work on bringing down the price of premiums, of copays, of deductibles. We’ve got to work on lowering our prescription drug prices.”

Miller-Meeks insisted she has always supported protections for preexisting conditions and backs efforts by House Republicans to put forth legislation that would continue to provide such protections and coverage for Americans, should the law be overturned.

“Both parties should be coming together, planning ahead and trying to determine what they can do should the Affordable Care Act be struck down,” Miller-Meeks said. “Health care needs to be affordable. It needs to be accessible. And it needs to be able to give us choice. I have long argued for this, and the ACA failed us in that regard.”

While Republicans have long said their goal is to repeal and replace the law, years have gone by “that Republicans could have put a plan forward,” Hart said.

“They have not done it,” she said.

Miller-Meeks, meanwhile, criticized Hart for her vote in the Iowa Legislature in support of a 2018 bill that allowed organizations to create health care plans that could avoid federal requirements like the one in the Affordable Care Act that says insurance companies cannot reject individuals with preexisting conditions.

“There’s only one person on this stage who has voted to deny coverage to preexisting conditions, and that’s Rita Hart,” Miller-Meeks said.

Hart said she crossed part lines to vote for a bill supported largely by Iowa Republicans that created health plans to help Iowans who cannot afford or were not eligible for federal subsidies to purchase plans on the health exchange.

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“Every single Republican under the dome voted for it, and it was the best thing for my constituents,” Hart said.

When it comes to the pandemic, both agreed that Congress needs to act quickly on a bipartisan solution for another wave of pandemic relief.

On abortion, when asked if Roe v. Wade should be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, Hart, a farmer and 20-year teacher, said “we have got to make sure that women have a right to privacy and that they have a right to reproductive health care.”

Miller-Meeks did not say whether she favors Congress stepping in to avoid a national patchwork of abortion laws.

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