The race for Indiana’s 5th Congressional District is expected to be tight, pitting former state Rep. Christina Hale (D) against state Sen. Victoria Spartz (R).
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 Indiana 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?
Hale: Seniors have paid into Social Security for their entire careers. It’s not an entitlement; it’s an earned benefit, and it should not be on the chopping block for any reason, ever. Cutting this program would not only be unfair, it would hurt our economy. I will always oppose efforts to privatize Social Security. These proposals would only serve to benefit big banks and financial institutions — the big guys — while jeopardizing the hard-earned financial security of our retirees.
Spartz: We have to keep promises to our seniors. It’s a must. We have to restore our nation’s fiscal health in [the] long-term and fiscal stability. As a CPA [certified public accountant], I understand how to get it done. I actually legislated in the Statehouse stress testing of our pension funds to make sure that we can keep promises to our teachers and public safety officers. It’s a must. It has to be done, and we’ll get it done at the federal level, too.
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?
Spartz: We have a monopoly problem in health care, so we have to fix it. Each segment of the market should have more competition, more transparency, and bring better value and more choice. It will help with our Medicare cost-to-value. It will help with every other aspect of health care. But it has to be fixed. Our price increases are not sustainable, becoming less and less affordable. And if we don’t deal with that soon, we’re going to bankrupt our country. There is a lot of innovation that can happen in health care if we allow more competition and have strong protections for people with pre-existing conditions and seniors on Medicare. If we allow Medicare for All to happen, our seniors are going to be on the chopping block, and we will not be able to deliver good value to them. It’s unacceptable.
Hale: Medicare provides millions of Americans with affordable, high-quality health care services. I will always oppose efforts that would cut benefits, shift a greater share of costs on to beneficiaries or convert Medicare to a voucher system. But I’ll always support proposals that allow the federal government to negotiate the price of prescription drugs for everyone enrolled in Medicare Part D plans.
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?
Hale: Americans over 50 are often hit the hardest in times of crisis. There’s no question that we need another relief bill signed into law. We need to ensure that it expands supplemental unemployment and income payments, and provides continued relief to our small and mid-sized businesses. But we also need to ensure that this funding comes with greater flexibility, so that these businesses can use these funds in a way that meets their specific needs. And we need to expand access and funding for senior nutrition programs to ensure low-income and unemployed elder Americans have access to affordable and healthy meals. As somebody who has delivered Meals on Wheels in this unconnected community, this is key moving forward.
Spartz: We have to get our economy back on track. The best solution for unemployment is job creation. Small businesses are key to this. We have to make sure that we have a low-tax environment, a low-regulatory environment, better access to capital and better access to workforce development programs for small businesses. We have to incentivize innovation and infrastructure, access to fast-speed internet — rural broadband — and also make sure that we don’t put 40 percent tax on capital gains, as Vice President Biden suggested. Because it does not just affect small businesses; it affects a lot of seniors and their retirement income. So we have to be smart, and our economy will go back on track.
4. Americans pay the highest prescription drug prices in the world. If elected, how will you cut prescription drug prices for all Americans?
Spartz: Prescription drugs are too expensive. We have to do two major things. We have to reform the FDA [Food and Drug Administration]. They became [a] detriment to innovation and add a lot of unnecessary costs. And we also need to have more transparency. I actually legislated at the Statehouse [for] prescription drug transparency for large prescription benefit managers. They have to pass through all of the savings to health plans, and it’s not happening a lot of times. So more transparency, more competition and a smart regulatory environment will help with innovation and cost. I think we have to do it, or it’s not sustainable.
Hale: We have to cut prescription drug prices. And to get started, there are a couple of easy things we can do right now to make prescription drugs more affordable. First, we can allow the federal government to negotiate Medicare drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. We also need to make it easier for lower-cost generic drugs to come to market and close loopholes that let bad actors sharply increase prices. And finally, pharmacy benefit managers don’t always pass along cost savings to consumers, and we need this to change.
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?
Hale: Far too many families have experienced tragedy at this difficult time. I’ll work to ensure that seniors who need care at home can receive it in order to reduce wait lists and crowding at senior care facilities. But we also need to provide additional funding to support family leave. And we need funding for states to hire more home health care workers and offer them the resources they need to work safely. And finally, we need to increase federal funding for nursing home surveys. We need this critical data, which help nursing homes identify vulnerabilities and improve infection-control processes.
Spartz: I actually work on the issue of long-term care and Medicaid at the Statehouse. We have to deliver better value for people with disabilities, and also to our seniors, and provide more flexibility. We spend $100,000 per year per person on long-term care, and it’s not delivering results. As you can see, a lot of people who died from COVID-19 were in nursing homes. And we don’t allow flexibility to seniors. A lot of seniors would prefer, maybe, in-home care and other options. I think that flexibility will reduce costs and also have better value for seniors so they can have the right services.
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.
Also of Interest