Polling shows that health care is a top concern for voters across the country, and voters in Western Pennsylvania are no exception. The voters in our Split Ticket series are divided on how to address the issue. Two people want to expand government health care – and while the other two don’t, they have each turned to public services for help.
'I’m in a Catch-22'
Medicare saved Mary Henze’s life.
“Without Medicare, I’d be dead,” she said. “They’d have turned me away at the hospital doors."
Henze lives in Jefferson Hills, and is 53. She’s been on disability since 2010 and is HIV-positive, two factors that qualified her for Medicare before she turned 65. Henze depended on the program when she had a brain tumor a few years ago, and relies on it now while she fights breast cancer.
For the most part, Henze has been satisfied with her care, but she’s unhappy that receiving it means she’s dependent on the government.
“I’m in a Catch-22 because I don’t believe in it and I’m stuck on it,” she said. “And I hate it.”
Henze is a Republican, though she was a Democrat for decades and voted for Obama in 2008. She said she justifies using Medicare because she paid into the system for 25 years when she was working.
“I have a lot of disdain for myself, disappointment in myself,” she said. “I’m reliant on the system. I would much rather be independent with my health care.”
Henze believes she could get better care on private insurance, but said she “can’t badmouth Medicare” because if she didn’t have it, she’d have no coverage at all.
She supports a health care approach like the one proposed by Democrat Pete Buttigieg, that allows anyone to opt-in to Medicare if they want to do so.
“I’m not averse to giving people [a] general benefit, but allowing people to choose,” Henze said. “I don’t want anyone else to be stuck on a government program where they don’t get their choice. You’re reliant on others for your life.”
Since Trump has been in office, Congressional Republicans repeatedly tried to abolish the Affordable Care Act, without providing an alternative. That law protects people with pre-existing conditions from being charged higher premiums, and it allows people like Savannah Henry to stay on their parents insurance until they’re 26. This winter, Trump’s proposed budget included more than $100 billion in cuts to Medicare.
Republican Mary Henze voted for Trump in 2016, but hopes he doesn’t reduce benefits for the program she relies on.
“President Trump this is not the time to do this,” she said. “I know money has to be cut, but don’t hurt someone.”
She still plans on supporting him in November.
'Medicare for All isn’t going to be a solution'
Republican Ed Cwiklinski doesn't believe the government should be involved in anyone's health care, and wants to see the entire Medicare program privatized.
“I don’t think it’s the job of the government to make sure I have health care,” said Cwiklinski, 46 of Bethel Park. “I don’t believe that health care is a human right."
"Maybe my position sounds very cold, or uncaring, but I’ve had my share of heartaches and heartbreaks and seeing my family members sick.”
In fact, Cwiklinski and his wife and three children don’t have insurance, which he discovered after we talked for this story. He’s now submitted paperwork for CHIP, the government health insurance program for kids, and is waiting to get a quote from an insurance company.
Cwiklinski said he’s okay with using government services like CHIP because his tax dollars have helped pay for them. But he doesn’t want new taxes to pay for a new program like Medicare for All.
“Even if everyone deserves health care, Medicare for All isn’t going to be a solution to that problem,” he said.
‘Health care is a basic human right’
“I think everyone in this country should get the health care they need,” said progressive Democrat Savannah Henry.
Henry is 19, and has not any major medical issues herself. But she supports Medicare for All, an idea backed by Democratic Senators and presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. The proposal would replace the health insurance market with a government-run system that would cover everyone.
“A lot of the people who aren’t getting health care are low-income,” Henry said. “And a lot of the low-income people in this country are the black and brown people who don’t get represented. It’s all intersectional. It’s important to me.”
Henry is from Erie, and is a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh. This year will be her first time voting in a presidential election. She is still on her parents’ insurance, and says health care is not something she and her friends talk about much. Still, she sees Medicare for All as important for her future.
“Student debt is a huge issue that we’re definitely facing,” she said. “And that ties into health care. If you’re in this much debt, you’re not going to be able to live because you’re going to have to be paying all these bills.”
'I’m on Medicare and guess what, I’m not afraid of it'
Democrat Linda Bishop said health care is her number-one issue as a voter and believes Medicare for All is the best possible solution.
“I want to see a system where everybody is covered,” she said. “In America, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have universal health care coverage.”
Bishop, 68, is on a Medicare Advantage plan, and said it compares very favorably to her experience on private insurance.
“I’m on Medicare and guess what, I’m not afraid of it,” she said. “It has a 50-year track record, the administrative costs are low, and I’m very happy with my insurance, and I think most people in this country would be too.”
Bishop said the differences between the Democratic candidates’ health care proposals are less important than beating President Trump in November.
“The real question is: Why is candidate Trump trying to tell us he’s our champion on the health care issue when in fact the truth is exactly the opposite?” she asked.
Read more in our Split Ticket series.