In my last post (which you can read by clicking on this LINK) I wrote about and supported Dr. David Gill for Congress in the 15th Congressional District in Illinois, our President's home state. He challenges long-time incumbent Republican Tim Johnson, a 40-year professional politician who marches in lock step with his party.
As a follow up, I have invited Dr. Gill to respond to some questions regarding his goals in Congress if elected in November.
1- Why are you a candidate for Congress?
Here in America, someone dies every 12 minutes, just because they don't have health insurance. This situation is a moral outrage of the highest order, a national travesty. Although I've been privileged to care for thousands of patients, I feel compelled to go to Washington where I can work to improve health care for all 300 million of us.
Twenty years as a doctor has taught me a whole lot about the way we finance health care here in America. I learned a whole lot more serving as president of the board of directors of John Warner Hospital, in Clinton, Illinois, where I lived for many years. Now I have the added perspective of seeing health care financing as the loved one of a patient--my first wife, Polly, was diagnosed with colon cancer back in 2006. She developed serious complications after her first abdominal surgery, and she had to be life-flighted down to Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. I've spent years talking about our broken health care system, but it was brought home to me in a very direct way when I opened an envelope from Blue Cross-Blue Shield a few weeks later and learned that they expected Polly and me to pay that $17,000 helicopter bill. What a system--at the same time people are sick and fighting for their very lives, they're also required to do battle with our for-profit health insurance companies. Polly ended up losing her battle with cancer. As a single dad of three children, I needed to sit out the 2008 election.
I've since remarried, though, to Elaine, a wonderful woman from McLean County on the western edge of IL-15, and my passion for repairing our broken health care system is stronger than ever. And so, with my family's encouragement, I'm back on the campaign trail.
2- What do you hope to accomplish if elected?
The private for-profit health insurance companies grow more powerful by the day, and I'd like to get to Washington to bring about real health care reform and lead our way toward an " Improved Medicare for all" system. And let me be clear--it's the system that needs changing. I speak against these health insurance companies all the time, but the fault really lies with elected representatives who side with health insurance companies and leave in place a system that allows them to control health care delivery. The health insurance companies are not evil--they're just doing their job. It is not their job to care about this country or the well-being of American citizens. Their mission is to maximize return for their shareholders, and they do everything possible to achieve that mission. But the more success they have, the worse off the American people and the American economy are. By allowing for-profit companies to run health care in America, we wind up with the terrible results I mentioned earlier--spending twice as much per person as anywhere else in the world and ranking 37th in quality and leaving the vast majority either uninsured or underinsured.
3- What is the makeup of your district?
Illinois' 15th district is geographically the largest Congressional district east of the Mississippi, stretching from a few miles south of Kankakee to the tip of the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population totaling some 650,000 individuals is 64 percent urban and 36 percent rural. The district's ethnic make-up is 89.5 percent white, 5.7 percent African-American, 2.3 percent Asian-American, and 2.2 percent Hispanic. Nearly 89 percent of IL-15's residents have graduated high school, and 26.5 percent hold a Bachelor's degree or higher. Senior citizens account for 13.9 percent of our population. Politically, Charles Cook rates the district R+6.
IL-15 holds some of the world's richest and most productive farmland. We are home to major agricultural businesses, a vibrant sector of information technology, and thriving communities of graphic designers, printers, artisans, and artists. We have three major universities, several community colleges, and a number of trade schools .Beyond the statistics, however, IL-15 is home to decent, hard-working people who don't expect a hand-out or a free ride. By and large, our citizens have worked long hours, played by the rules, and invested in their communities. Now they are suffering in this harsh economic climate. Simply put, they need a safety net, and they need to know that someone hears and understands their distress.
From 2000 to 2008, poverty in IL-15 rose at four times the national rate. Jobless rates are beginning to stabilize, but unemployment still exceeds the national level throughout most of the district. Our local food banks and charitable organizations are inundated with requests for assistance. As foreclosures mount, homelessness is on the rise, overwhelming the ability of churches and shelters to provide services even as funding from the state lags months in arrears or dries up altogether.
4- What is the average income level of the district?
The median income is $46,218, compared to the state's median income of $52,175 Almost 23 percent of our households have incomes below $25,000.
5- As you believe in term limits, how long will you serve if elected?
I serve at the pleasure of my constituents. From the day I am sworn in, I will work indefatigably toward passage of a Constitutional amendment to provide for limiting time served in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, and I'll actively promote those candidates who agree with the need for such an amendment.
6- What committee assignments would you seek in Congress?
I believe I can best represent the interests of Illinois' 15 district by serving on the Health & Human Services, Agriculture, and either Transportation or Energy committees.
7- What is the first piece of legislation you would write?
I will write and seek passage for EMTALA reform, a long overdue bill that should receive ample bipartisan support and establish me as a lawmaker who can work across the aisle in health care reform.
Working in Emergency Departments in both rural and urban settings for many years has allowed me to witness the failures of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). This law mandates that any individual arriving at an Emergency Department be treated without regard to the severity or triviality of the complaint. For the uninsured, those least able to pay for medical treatment, the Emergency Room is often their only access to professional health care. EMTALA's stringent requirements facilitate abuse of the system. Charges incurred for unnecessary emergency care are borne by the rest of society, through our tax dollars and through increased costs for insured health care services, in order to make up for all of these unpaid bills.
Common sense would suggest that individuals without true emergencies be met at the triage desk and politely redirected to a more appropriate non-emergency facility. EMTALA subjects hospitals to extremely stiff penalties. Currently, a single violation of this law can easily cost a hospital $50,000. An inordinately large percentage of physicians' time in the Emergency Room--where care is more expensive than anywhere else in our health care system--is spent with patients who do not actually have emergencies.
8- What assistance does your campaign need to ensure victory?
Every campaign needs money, and mine is no exception. I am proud that 97 percent of my support comes from individual donors, and the people of IL-15 and across the nation have been extremely generous. However, my opponent receives 70 percent of his funding from corporate special interests. AT&T and Ameren (a regional power utility) pour tens of thousands of dollars into his campaign coffers. So I need more people to contribute $5, $10, $50--whatever they can toward our efforts.
Just last week, my opponent sent a four-page glossy brochure targeting senior citizens through the U.S. mail at taxpayers' expense. Ostensibly, the brochure is a newsletter to inform his constituents of his activities, a perfectly legal perk of incumbency. This brochure, however, is 70 percent photographs with very little substantive content. How many of those seniors realize that Tim Johnson voted for the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit that helped explode our deficit and create the infamous "doughnut hole" in medical coverage?
The campaign also needs volunteers. We take our message directly to the people of the district, and it involves a lot of foot work, a lot of telephoning, a lot of emailing, and a lot of energy and determination.
Additional content by Jon Stone.