Democratic candidates for the 7th District congressional seat expressed similar concerns about health care at a forum last night, pledging to fight any cuts in Medicare and Social Security and expressing skepticism about shifting federal programs to the states.
The forum on health care issues at Liberty Medical Center in Northwest Baltimore attracted 13 of the 27 Democrats running for the seat being vacated by Rep. Kweisi Mfume. Republican candidates were told they will have a similar forum this month.
Last night, nearly every candidate expressed concern that the district's poorer residents do not have access to quality care.
The Rev. Frank M. Reid III, pastor of Bethel AME Church, said it was ironic that in a city with some of the best health care resources in the country that "most of the citizens of the 7th District cannot afford decent care."
Del. Elijah E. Cummings said, "If there can be a Contract on America, then we must keep the contract that we have made with our elderly, our poor and our disadvantaged."
Del. Salima Siler Marriott voiced a concern of many in the black community that in the move toward managed care, many doctors serving that community for years are being shut out. The systems must be "culturally sensitive," she said.
A. Dwight Pettit, a lawyer, was one of a handful of candidates who cast a suspicious eye at proposals to turn funding for Medicaid, a federal-state health plan for the needy, over to the states.
Mr. Pettit called it "the same revolution in terms of states rights" fought during the civil rights movement. "If those moneys are not monitored, they're not going to go to the people that need them," he said.
Several candidates suggested ways to cut costs.
Mr. Cummings said much of the health care dollar is spent on keeping elderly people in hospitals and nursing homes. "We need to treat our elderly much more compassionately, allow them to stay in their homes ," he said.
State Sen. Delores G. Kelley said Social Security could be adequately funded by slightly lowering the annual cost-of-living raise.
"That half-a-percent difference would give us almost what we would need to keep Social Security on a sound actuarial basis for the next seven years," she said.
Traci K. Miller, an assistant city state's attorney, suggested a Medicare means test. "We would not waste the money on people who do not need it," she said.