September 10, 2008
Seward challenged on health care
Opponent says state senator too beholden to insurance companies
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Democratic state Senate candidate Don Barber, left, watches Tuesday as supporters unfold a list of insurance companies that have donated to Sen. Jim Seward’s election campaign.
Democratic state Senate candidate Don Barber challenged his opponent’s ability to work for better health care Tuesday in a speech made outside the Cortland Post Office.
A list unfurled in front of Barber and his campaign staff showed Sen. Jim Seward has received $312,230 since 1999 in contributions from health insurance companies.
Barber said this diminishes Seward’s ability to work for better health care. Seward chairs the Standing Committee on Insurance in the Senate.
HMO rates have risen 73 percent since 2001, and insurance company profits have gone up 93 percent, Barber said.
“Why does he accept these contributions? Because that’s how they do business in Albany, and he knows it,” Barber said. “I will put middle-class interests first.”
Barber said he wants to help initiate a public-funded plan, which is aimed at taking the gluttony out of insurance companies.
“A single-payer, universal health care system will save all businesses a great deal of money and allow them to compete in the global marketplace,” he said.
Seward Campaign Coordinator Jeff Bishop said this type of plan should not be construed as “free coverage,” and funding for it would result in higher taxes that would be a drain on local businesses.
Bishop said the issue of campaign contributions is irrelevant and that Seward’s integrity is not for sale.
Seward has sponsored health insurance reform legislation that demonstrates he is not always in tune with insurance companies, Bishop said.
Seward supported the Health Insurance Premium Integrity Act that passed in the Senate last year, legislation which insurance companies lobbied against.
This legislation aims to provide policies for those ages 19 to 26, so they could be in a better position to receive independent coverage. Bishop added it also required a higher percentage of premiums to be spent on medical care.
Bishop said Barber’s plan would only create new problems.
“If Barber’s manner of fixing the health care problem is increasing taxes, it won’t help, it will do just the opposite,” Bishop said.
According to Barber, about 50 percent of the tax burden in Tompkins County is related to health care.
He said the county tax levy last year was $35 million, and that health insurance and Medicaid combined was $17 million.
If employers continue as the sole providers of health care, it won’t be possible to have quality health care, he said.
Bishop said efforts are being made to find a middle ground solution to the issue.
Bishop said a Partnership for Coverage study is ongoing this year under the state commissioner of health and the state insurance superintendent.
“The goal is to find a way to provide more affordable health insurance to more people,” he said.
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