Neal lays out vision for health care

  • U.S. Rep. Richard Neal speaks Aug. 23, 2018 at the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • U.S. Rep. Richard Neal speaks Aug. 23, 2018 at the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • U.S. Rep. Richard Neal speaks Thursday at the Gazette. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

Staff Writer
Published: 8/23/2018 10:50:59 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Health care is a central topic dividing the Democratic Party, and the 1st Congressional District is no exception.

In an editorial board meeting Thursday with the Gazette, incumbent Rep. Richard Neal laid out his vision for health care in the United States — a key issue in the Democratic primary race for his seat. He said he wants to strive for universal coverage, but that a slower path is better than a Medicare for All bill like his opponent, Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, supports. Neal also spoke on topics ranging from investigations into the president to voter turnout.

“I think that there is an approach that is a little more incremental in nature,” Neal said when asked to clarify his stance on Medicare for All. “I understand aspiration … but the idea that overnight you’re going to take 20 percent of the American economy and transform it is not realistic.”

The question is one of intense interest to voters across the country, with some more establishment Democrats taking Neal’s stance while others push for single-payer health care much sooner. A recent Reuters–Ipsos survey found that 85 percent of Democrats support a Medicare for All policy, as do 52 percent of Republicans.

Neal, 69, mentioned past efforts to create single-payer health care at the state level — Vermont pulling back from its own universal health care plan in 2014, a failed Colorado ballot measure in 2016 — to bolster his argument for gradual change.

Instead, Neal said, the conversation should begin with protecting and improving the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, which he said he helped craft.

“We capped out-of-pocket costs, free mammography screening for women — it was really unbelievable what we did with that bill,” he said.

In addition, Neal said he would like to have a Medicare buy-in for those 55 and older, and to expand Medicaid.

If Democrats take back Congress in 2018, Neal said he would look to help bring back parts of the ACA that the administration of President Donald Trump has gutted, like the individual mandate requiring people to have health insurance.

“I think that we would certainly move in the direction of restoring the mandate,” Neal said. “And compelling Trump into negotiation.”

But on the question of a single-payer health care bill at this very moment, Neal said that some voices needed to “calm.”

“In the modern lexicon it’s never enough,” Neal said of people’s criticism of the efforts of legislators like himself.

Insurance and pharmaceutical companies are the top industries that have contributed to Neal’s campaign committee, giving $489,350 during the 2018 election cycle, according to numbers from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Neal also spoke on other topics with the Gazette, including the recent guilty plea of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and conviction of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort on several federal crimes.

“The most important thing is that it put to rest or to bed the argument that this has been a witch hunt,” Neal said of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. He said before discussing impeachment, however, he wants to see where special counsel Robert Mueller goes next.

When asked how Democrats might be able to change their messaging to bring more voters into the fold given the country’s low voter turnout, Neal said messaging was not an issue.

“I come down on the more difficult side — you’re supposed to get to the polls,” he said.

Neal also said that the decline in union membership has had a huge consequence on elections in the country.

“I think that more should have been put into card check, making it easier to organize,” he said, referring to the process of certifying a bargaining unit when a majority have signed union cards, instead of having to then go to a secret ballot.

Neal spoke on several other topics: his support of increasing vocational training and strengthening community colleges, the work he has done improving local air bases, the need for gun control, and strengthening Social Security.

When asked at the end of the meeting what his most important message for voters was, he didn’t refer to any policy. Rather, he fell back on his nearly 30-year tenure in Congress.

“I think in a chaotic time, you need a steady hand,” he said. “And I think I bring some institutional memory and some knowledge, and I understand the arcane process of legislating.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at


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