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Senate Candidates Share Health Care Concerns, Differ on Solutions

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RALEIGH — Affordable health care and dealing with HMOs continue to be concerns for North Carolina voters.

As part of our Your Voice, Your Vote survey for 1998, the candidates for the U.S. Senate recently discussed the issues with us. We listened to voters, the Libertarian nominee and the front runners -- Democrat John Edwards and Republican incumbent Lauch Faircloth.

Of the 1,000 voters surveyed in our Your Voice, Your Vote poll, 62 percent told us they worry about their ability to pay for medical care. The U.S. Senate candidates share their concerns but differ in their solutions.

Democrat John Edwards and Republican incumbent Lauch Faircloth believe there is room for government regulation, including strengthening Medicare rules to cut fraud.

The greatest concern we found among voters and the candidates: the role of insurance companies in making medical decisions.

Of those polled, 94 percent said insurance companies should never overrule the doctor.

"As far as I'm concerned, the doctor is the final arbitrator and what he says goes," says voter Joe Homovec. "What the heck do the darn insurance companies know about it?"

"The consumer, the customer, the patient should be making all his health care decisions," says Libertarian candidate Barbara Howe. "And that means deciding what kind and how much insurance he needs."

Edwards and Faircloth endorse their party's HMO reform legislation. And the differences are clear.

"His plan is a shell," said Edwards. The Democratic candidate claims the GOP bill does not cover enough people. Faircloth says Edwards should read the bill.

Edwards also claims the GOP bill lacks compassion, citing choice of primary doctors and the need for independent reviews when coverage is denied.

"Under his plan, those people on the so-called independent review panel are appointed by the HMOs and insurance companies," says Edwards. "What is that, a joke?"

"That's not true, absolutely not true," says Faircloth. "[They] would be appointed by independent medical people that had nothing to do with the insurance companies."

"Although they allow direct access for women to OB-GYNs, they don't allow women to select their OB-GYN as their primary care provider," Edwards said.

"She can, she can," counters Faircloth. "That's exactly the piece I put in. He simply hasn't read the bill."

Faircloth and Edwards agree the problems and differences between insurance companies and consumers will grow if not corrected soon. Their solutions, however, are far apart.

"It depends on whose view of it it is as to how you correct it," says Faircloth. "Obviously, Mr. Edwards' view would be to correct it with more lawsuits."

Not so, says Edwards.

"I think what we're really trying to accomplish here, is not to create lawsuits, but to create a meaningful incentive for HMOs and insurance companies to just do the right thing," Edwards said.

You can learn more about the where the candidates stand on the issue of health care in Sunday's News and Observer. Transcripts of interviews with the U.S. Senate candidates are posted in the Your Voice, Your Vote section of the N&O's web site.


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