Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D) is seeking a third term representing Arizona’s 1st Congressional District in Congress, but his reelection campaign faces stiff competition from Republican challenger Tiffany Shedd, a farmer and attorney from Eloy, Arizona.
To understand how they plan to protect Social Security and Medicare, stimulate the economy, lower prescription drug prices and ensure that Americans have access to affordable long-term care, AARP Arizona asked each candidate to answer five key questions in 60-second videos. Here are their responses, with transcripts:
1. Social Security is a self-financed, off-budget program that half of all seniors rely on for more than 50 percent of their income. If elected, how will you ensure that current and future Social Security benefits are not cut as part of deficit reduction?
O’Halleran: Social Security is a lifeline that Arizona seniors have paid into their entire lives. They do not deserve to have the rug pulled out from under them by Washington politicians. If reelected, I will continue to stand up to partisan attacks on Social Security and oppose harmful cuts like suspending payroll taxes. This kind of overhaul to our tax structure would not only saddle families with larger payments later on, but would threaten to eliminate both Social Security and Medicare for good. We need to pay down our deficit, but we absolutely must not do so on the backs of these critical programs. I am focused on getting our nation’s fiscal house in order by identifying commonsense, bipartisan solutions, not disadvantaging our seniors.
Shedd: We must protect Social Security for seniors. This has been earned and paid into by seniors around the country, and if they had pulled the rug out on my family when I was growing up, it would have devastated us. My father was 57 when I was born. My family lived on my dad’s Social Security and my mom’s school teacher’s salary. The drastic inflation of the 1970s reduced the value of my parents’ lifetime of savings through no fault of their own. After Mom retired as a widow, her main source of income was Dad’s Social Security. The Social Security trust fund needs to be protected and shored up by implementing measures such as eliminating fraud and waste, promoting long-term economic growth by encouraging work — not penalizing it — and protecting the most vulnerable people through focused reform.
2. On average, health care already accounts for $1 out of every $6 spent by seniors. If elected, how will you protect Medicare from benefit cuts, lower health care costs and ensure seniors continue receiving the affordable care they have earned?
Shedd: Our seniors should not be faced with the worry of either not receiving health care or going bankrupt over medical bills. Medicare can be improved by reducing regulations that hinder care and drive costs up, eliminating fraud, allowing participation in medical savings accounts, setting maximum amounts for out-of-pocket costs, embracing modern technology such as telemedicine, and implementing incentives for patients and providers which will lower the cost of Medicare while improving patient care.
O’Halleran: Of the 60 million people covered by Medicare, only 57 percent of beneficiaries with vision problems have received an eye exam within the previous year. Currently, Medicare Part B does not cover routine eye exams. That is why I introduced the Medicare Vision Act. My bill will expand Medicare Part B coverage to include routine eye exams, procedures and contact lenses fitting services. It will also provide coverage for one pair of eyeglasses or a two-year supply of contact lenses. Eyeglasses and routine eye exams are essential components of health care for Arizona seniors and should be covered under Medicare. If reelected, I will continue working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to identify commonsense solutions to improve and expand Medicare coverage.
3. Unemployment during the coronavirus crisis reached the highest levels since the Great Depression, and older Americans have been disproportionately affected. If elected, how will you help Americans over the age of 50 recover economically from the effects of the coronavirus?
O’Halleran: Due to a flawed funding formula used under the CARES Act, only two of Arizona’s 15 counties received direct federal assistance, disadvantaging seniors in rural areas across our state. This is why I cosponsored the SMART [State and Municipal Assistance for Recovery and Transition] Fund — legislation to provide robust support to state and local governments on the front lines of this pandemic. Our bipartisan bill provides $500 billion in emergency funding to every state, county and community in the country while prioritizing assistance to the areas with the greatest need. I am committed to continue working with my colleagues in Washington to identify legislative fixes that prop up our rural economies and create jobs for seniors who have been hurt by this pandemic.
Shedd: This virus has affected so many lives and businesses across the country. It is heartbreaking to see the devastation that has affected our most vulnerable population. First, we must ensure that Social Security and Medicare are there for everyone who is counting on it. Secondly, we must get our economy back on track as quickly as possible, making sure we are bringing quality jobs back through policies of low taxes, less regulation and laws that incentivize economic and job growth — not raising taxes and increasing job-killing regulations. We need to implement retirement savings programs to help make up the difference for those with less years to earn. This will help those over 50 [years of age] recover.
4. Americans pay the highest prescription drug prices in the world. If elected, how will you cut prescription drug prices for all Americans?
Shedd: The cost of prescription drugs is outrageous in the United States. My family found this out personally when my daughter was diagnosed with insulin-dependent Type 1 diabetes at age 6. We see politicians in Washington who put profits over people and candidates who are expecting contributions from the same companies that are bankrupting families. Americans pay more than anyone in the world because we are bearing the entire research and development costs of prescription drugs. Other countries refuse to pay the research and development costs. I will fight to make sure everyone who uses these life-saving drugs is required to pay their fair share and not just have Americans pick up the tab. This will drastically reduce the cost of drugs in America.
O’Halleran: There is no reason Americans should be paying three- and sometimes four-times more for the drugs they need than families in other countries pay for the same prescriptions. Last year, the House of Representatives passed the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, legislation that I had voted for to cut the cost of prescription drugs by placing a cap on out-of-pocket expenses, empowering Medicare to negotiate prices directly with the drug companies and making these prices available to Americans with private insurance as well. Included within the bill was my legislation to expand Medicare to cover vision services for seniors for the first time in the program’s history. No Arizonan should have to choose between the medication they need and putting food on the table.
5. COVID-19 has caused death and suffering for too many older Americans who require long-term care. If elected, how will you make sure seniors can access safe and affordable long-term care at home and in nursing homes and assisted living facilities?
O’Halleran: I introduced the Renal Anemia Innovation Support and Expansion Act. My bill helps keep older high-risk patients with chronic kidney disease healthy by expanding Medicare to cover an effective oral treatment for renal anemia but can be taken in the safety of one’s own home. I led congressional efforts to secure federal funding to begin construction on a veterans’ nursing home in Flagstaff. Moving forward, I will work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and seniors’ advocates in Arizona to ensure that home care, nursing home facilities and telehealth are affordable and accessible.
Shedd: As a high-risk individual who is also the caretaker for an immunocompromised elderly relative, I’m acutely aware of the suffering endured by vulnerable older Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, both in regards to illness and loss of life, as well as the suffering caused by forced isolation from loved ones. Governors who pushed COVID patients back into nursing homes caused countless deaths that could have been avoided if they embraced technology that would have limited interaction with individuals who could have been infected with the virus. Modern advances in telemedicine and technology enable more seniors to stay at home and get the care they need. I will support policies that promote seniors staying in their homes and maintaining their independence while improving their care and safety, including expanding rural broadband and increasing access to health care in rural communities
AARP is committed to ensuring voters have the information they need to cast their ballot this year. That is why we are publishing the AARP Asks the Candidates voter guide series, so candidates can share their plans on issues important to 50-plus voters.
AARP has a proud 34-year history of non-partisan voter engagement and does not endorse or oppose candidates or make contributions to political campaigns or candidates.
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