5th district congressional candidates debate health care

— Five candidates running for Louisiana’s 5th District congressional seat told a forum late Thursday that they backed the federal health care revamp called Obamacare, a large portion of which goes into effect next week.

“The Affordable Care Act is right. It’s got some problems, but I support it and think it will help people,” state Rep. Robert Johnson, a Marksville Democrat, told about 60 people attending the candidate forum sponsored by the East Feliciana Democrats.

Two candidates, a Republican and a Libertarian, opposed the law that Republicans in Congress are trying to defund.

Seven of the 14 candidates attended one of the few forums being scheduled in the Florida parishes portion of the 5th District. Early voting in the race to replace resigning Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, begins Oct. 5. Election day is Oct. 19.

Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo said the health care revamp already has provided services for people who have pre-existing conditions and for young adults, under the age of 26, who can remain on their parents’ policies after 18 years of age.

Monroe businessman Vance McAllister, a Republican, said though he disagrees with the sweeping nature and mandates of the health care revamp, the Affordable Care Act has been found constitutional, Congress should work on revamping and improving the law.

“I get sick and tired of hearing our president called Obama,” McAllister said. “You can disagree with man but respect the office.”

Former congressman and state Public Service Commissioner Clyde Holloway, R-Forest Hill, opposes Obamacare.

“Inflation in health care started in 1973 when the government got involved in healthcare,” Holloway said. “We need to work on this issue much deeper. It was pushed through when it shouldn’t be pushed through. It’s not ready to be implemented on Oct. 1.”

Delhi resident Henry Herford Jr., who is running as a Libertarian, said he opposes the Affordable Care Act because government has no business being involved health care.

“I would do everything possible to abolish that plan,” Herford said.

State Rep. Marcus Hunter, D-Monroe, said he supports the program because it would provide health care in one of the poorest congressional districts in the U.S. with one of the highest rates of people with insurance coverage.

Former state Rep. R. Weldon Russell III, of Amite, recalled his recently deceased wife in saying the law would provide insurance for people who had none.

He condemned Gov. Bobby Jindal for refusing to expand Medicaid government insurance.

A key part of the revamp, Obamacare gave incentives for state governments to change the definitions of Medicaid insurance for the poor to also cover people who made too much money to qualify but not enough to buy policies on the private market.

“That is unconscionable,” Russell said of Jindal’s decision. Jindal has said the expansion would end up costing Louisiana taxpayers for subpar healthcare.

Also on the ballot but not attending the forum was state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, state Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, Fairbanks oil and gas landman Tom Gibbs; Lettsworth resident Peter Williams; Baton Rouge underwriter S.B.A. Zaitoon; Calhoun resident Phillip “Blake” Weatherly, and New Orleans real estate agent Eliot Barron.

The Secretary of State’s Office counted about 21 percent of the 481,294 registered voters live in Ouachita Parish and another 17.4 percent live in Rapides Parish.

About 15 percent, or 74,351 voters, live in the Florida parishes, which include the north Baton Rouge suburban and bedroom communities in East Feliciana.

Thirty-three percent of the 5th district’s registered voters are black and 27.4 percent are Republican.

But, during the last presidential election in November 2012, about 60 percent of the district’s voters backed GOP candidate Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama.

The 5th District includes all of Avoyelles, Caldwell, Catahoula, Concordia, East Carroll, Franklin, Grant, Jackson, LaSalle, Lincoln, Madison, Morehouse, Ouachita, Rapides, Richland, Tensas, Washington, West Carroll, West Feliciana and Winn parishes, plus parts of East Feliciana, St. Helena, St. Landry and Tangipahoa parishes.