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Rep. Andy Kim Talks Healthcare Reform, Partisanship, Iran at Town Hall Meeting

U.S. Rep. Andy Kim addresses a town hall meeting in Ocean Gate, N.J., Jan. 22, 2020. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

U.S. Rep. Andy Kim addresses a town hall meeting in Ocean Gate, N.J., Jan. 22, 2020. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

As a presidential impeachment trial raged on in Washington, D.C. Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Rep. Andy Kim (D-3) was talking bread-and-butter issues with constituents at his 16th public town hall meeting since being elected to the House in 2018.

There was general talk of polarization in Washington and a short discussion about Iran’s response to the drone strike that killed Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani and the availability of missile defense at forward bases in Iraq, but most of the residents packed into the Ocean Gate municipal building had healthcare and veterans’ issues on their mind.

“What is your position on Medicaid for All?” asked one Lavallette resident, referencing the push by many in the Democratic party to extend a single payer healthcare system to all Americans, regardless of age. Kim’s response was one of caution.

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“We want folks to be able to have good healthcare,” Kim said. “I, for one, believe healthcare is a right and I believe it helps in every other aspect of your life – getting a job, providing for your family.”

Kim, however, stopped short of endorsing Medicare for All, saying he has studied 31 countries which have varying degrees of public healthcare regimes – from full single payer to hybrid public-private systems – and said a more closer look must be taken before Congress votes on any broad reforms.

“Only a small slice of them are single payer,” he said, of the European healthcare systems that are often touted as being universal and more economic than America’s private employer-based method of providing the bulk of the nation’s health insurance. “Some are multi-payer, some of them have partnerships between the public and private sectors. I believe we still need to think through this.”

As for ideas that have been proposed by both sides of the political aisle: “I don’t see plans out there right now that I support,” Kim said, responding to a similar question about the affordability of funding a single payer system in the United States. “I’m open to talking and engaging with other legislators. We have to do it in a way that’s not going to tank our economy.”

For now, Kim said, progress has been made on lowering prescription drug costs.

“The price of my medicine is now two-thirds off,” said an attendee named John from Beachwood. “I don’t know if you scared them into setting a lower price, but I appreciate whatever you doing.”

Kim chuckled at the idea of “scaring off” pharmaceutical companies, but acknowledged that pressure can be helpful.

“First and foremost, these companies need to know that we’re watching them,” Kim said. “They need to know that we demand transparency from them when it comes to setting drug prices. In the richest and most powerful country in the world, people should not have to choose between medication and paying their rent.”

Kim on Other Issues

The rally was held on the tenth anniversary of the Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, a controversial landmark decision that confirmed corporations, labor unions and interest groups carry first amendment protection and can expend money to support or oppose political issues or candidates.

Kim said he has called for the reversal of the decision and does not accept funding from corporate-backed political action committees. He did, however, concede that he accept support from labor unions. He said he would accept campaign donations from outside of New Jersey if the organization has a message that is positive for the third district, which covers most of Ocean and Burlington counties.

Some issues that were brought up were beyond the scope of a short exchange at a town hall meeting. One audience member pointed to research showing that exposure to agent orange during the Vietnam War can permanently alter DNA sequences, passing disabilities on to the children and grandchildren of those who served. Kim, who seemed particularly interested in the issue, said he would speak in private with the resident who brought it to his attention and conduct research.

On missile defense systems protecting bases in Iraq, Kim said it is important to liaise with foreign leaders to determine whether such equipment can be deployed.

The U.S. currently uses two primary surface-to-air missile systems: Patriot, which can defend against enemy aircraft and incoming missiles (in its PAC-3 variant) and the THAAD platform, which stands for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, a system which specializes in intercepting medium and long-range ballistic missiles in their terminal phases. The presence of the THAAD system at foreign bases has occasionally caused controversy, notably in South Korea.

Kim, who is navigating rough political waters in a deeply divided district, said all elected officials should be looking to reach across the aisle.

“Partisanship has been a long time coming,” he said. “There were battles even in the early days of our founding fathers. But we can’t continue with this tribalism that just exists out there now.”

Kim is running for re-election this year in what is expected to be a high-stakes race that will see a large influx of campaign cash from both the Democrat and Republican parties’ national apparatus. Republicans have yet to fully coalesce behind a candidate to challenge Kim, however sources say Barnegat Township Mayor John Novak is a frontrunner.

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