An openly lesbian Wisconsin congresswoman who has spent her political career focusing on health care will have the chance Monday to tell Democratic National Convention delegates how Americans are struggling under the current health care system.
U.S. representative Tammy Baldwin, seeking her fourth term in Congress, said in an interview with the Associated Press that health care is one of the issues that will decide the presidential election. "If my constituency is any barometer, this is the average American family's greatest concern," Baldwin said.
Behind the economy, health care was ranked number 2 among top issues by Democratic delegates, according to an AP survey of some three quarters of the 4,300-plus delegates. Wisconsin delegates who responded to the survey ranked health care among their top three issues.
Baldwin's prepared speech includes the stories of some of her constituents in central Wisconsin, such as 68-year-old Angie Knipschield, who sometimes skips her high blood pressure medication because of its high cost, despite having suffered two minor strokes linked to the condition. She also limits her use of
medications for a hernia. "I don't take them every day because I can't afford to," said Knipschield, of Sun Prairie. Her insurance doesn't cover the cost of all of her prescriptions, which can cost up to $700 to refill. Knipschield's daughter, Amy, wrote Baldwin's office to ask for help.
Chris Beebe, 59, wrote Baldwin after the annual health insurance costs for his Madison car repair business reached nearly $40,000 a year, more than his income. Beebe was forced to ask his six employees to cover half of their insurance costs, and his wife is thinking about getting another job. "We're just not making it," he said.
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has proposed providing health insurance to an additional 27 million Americans by expanding a federal employee health care plan and other measures. President Bush wants to grant tax breaks and expand access to group health coverage to help an estimated 4 million people receive insurance.
Kerry's plan is more expensive, with an estimated price tag of $650 billion over the next decade, compared with $90 billion for Bush's plan. The president says his plan would lower health care costs and therefore allow more people to have health insurance. The Bush campaign also has said Kerry's opposition to medical liability reform has worked against lower costs.
But Baldwin said Kerry's plans would help make sure all American children have health insurance coverage, give small-business owners affordable coverage options, and cut health care costs overall.
One subject Baldwin said she decided against including in her speech was her support for universal health care, which she has backed since her first run for Congress in 1998. "The privilege I've been given this evening is to make the case for the Kerry-Edwards ticket and how they intend to respond to the anxieties that American families have about our current health care system," she said.
Baldwin drafted universal health care legislation in her freshman term. More recently she has worked with a bipartisan group, including members of Congress and political think tanks, to develop health care reform proposals. Baldwin represents a seven-county area in Wisconsin, including the city of Madison.
She will face either Madison minister Ron Greer or Portage businessman Dave Magnum in the fall general election. Greer, who lost the GOP primary in 1998 and lost to Baldwin in the 2002 general election, criticizes Baldwin as being part of the "radical left."