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Q&A: Londrigan Talks Public Option Vs. Medicare For All

Carleigh Gray
Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan is running against Stefanie Smith in the March 17 primary. The winner will face U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, in November.

Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan said there are a lot of things Congress can do to improve the U.S. health care system that stop well short of implementing a single-payer Medicare For All model.

Londrigan supports a so-called public option, in which people could buy into a government-run insurance program, like Medicare. Private insurance would still exist, but people could choose to get a government insurance plan instead.

"The only ones having these discussions, about which tack to take to make health care better, is Democrats."

That puts her at odds with Stefanie Smith, the other Democrat running in the 13th Congressional District. Smith, of Urbana, supports Medicare For All, also known as a single-payer system. The government would provide insurance to everyone, and private insurance would mostly go away. During a recent debate Smith said “anything less than single payer is eugenics.”

Londrigan, of Springfield, said her No. 1 priority is making sure “everyone has access to quality, affordable health care.”

“Across the district, I hear from people who like the insurance they have. They want to keep it. It’s just, they need help with the cost,” Londrigan said. “In our district, a really good alternative is to introduce Medicare as a public option, beginning in our rural communities and with small-business owners. Our rural communities have lost providers, so this would provide competition to the market and lower costs.”

If Londrigan is the nominee in the 13th District, it’s possible she’d share the ballot with a Democratic presidential nominee, such as Bernie Sanders, who supports Medicare For All.

“My job when I go to Washington is to advocate for people in the 13th District,” Londrigan said. “Let’s be clear about something: Republicans are not in the business of protecting health care. The only ones having these discussions, about which tack to take to make health care better, are Democrats. The Republican answer is to take it all away.”

Londrigan points to several recent votes by incumbent U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, the Taylorville Republican who represents the 13th District.

Davis voted in December against a Democratic plan to lower prescription drug costs. It would give Medicare the power to negotiate directly with the drug companies—what Londrigan has said would be her first priority if elected. A preliminary analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the core provision of the bill would save Medicare $345 billion between 2023 and 2029. 

Davis said he feared the bill would “result in fewer new drug products being developed and coming to the market.” He said “we should be able to lower costs without limiting new cures,” and that he instead favored what he called a comparable drug bill (H.R. 19). 

Londrigan also singled out Davis’ vote against a resolution condemning the Trump administration’s plan to dramatically alter the way the federal government gives money to states for Medicaid

The Trump administration is inviting states to design Medicaid plans that work with a new capped-funding approach; they have flexibility in how they design these plans and could be exempted from certain Medicaid requirements. The administration is delivering on a longtime conservative ideal; block grants for Medicaid have been discussed for nearly as long as Medicaid has existed, going back to the Nixon administration. 

Medicaid advocates say the changes would hurt low-income people and invite states to cut costs and reduce coverage. 

“It will hurt Medicaid recipients. Don’t let people confuse the issue. Those are cuts,” Londrigan said. 

In a recent WGLT interview, Davis said government benefit programs weren't designed to be used in perpetuity. 

“I think it’s more of an issue that we don’t encourage able-bodied adults to get into the workforce and lift them and their families out of poverty, than the worry about whether some state may decide to implement a plan that’s a little different than what we’re used to in Illinois,” Davis said.

Listen to the full interview with Londrigan below:


The Democratic primary election is March 17. The 13th Congressional District includes parts of Bloomington-Normal, Springfield, Champaign-Urbana, and Decatur.

Ryan Denham is the content director for WGLT and WCBU.