- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 3, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Republican contenders for Louisiana’s U.S. Senate seat pushed repeal of the federal health overhaul Wednesday, while their Democratic opponents said they want tweaks instead. But both sets of candidates were short on specifics about the health care changes they’d seek to improve coverage.

Among Republicans, U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany said people need a wider array of insurance choices and more focus on the “doctor-patient relationship.” He called the current health law championed by President Barack Obama “deeply flawed,” noting he’s repeatedly voted to scrap the provisions.

U.S. Rep. John Fleming talked of needing a “market-based approach” to replace the law and blamed the law for “devastating jobs” across the country. He said businesses have been cutting full-time workers to part-time status to avoid the insurance mandate.

Boustany and Fleming are both doctors.

Treasurer John Kennedy said the country needs more choice, more competition, more price transparency and less fraud, saying he’d push to repeal a ban on buying insurance across state lines. He told the health care industry officials that he’d “rather drink weed-killer than support Obamacare.”

“Obamacare sucks. It can’t be fixed,” Kennedy said.

Joseph Cao, a Republican former congressman, said he’d support repeal, citing concerns about small business regulations, electronic reporting requirements and concerns that federal money could later pay for abortion services. But he also questioned if the law would ever be jettisoned.

“If we cannot repeal it, we should fix it,” he said in a health care forum sponsored by the Louisiana Association of Health Plans.

Among Democratic candidates, Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, lawyer Caroline Fayard and oil and gas businessman Josh Pellerin said they wanted adjustments, not repeal.

Campbell said he’d seek improvements for small business regulations. Pellerin suggested the law could use a name change and said while it’s not “perfect, I certainly think it has its benefits,” like allowing children to stay on their parents’ health insurance until the age of 26 and prohibiting coverage refusal based on pre-existing conditions.

Fayard said the health insurance mandate and open enrollment standards need to be changed. She said while the law was pitched as an effort to drive down costs and increase competition for consumers, that hasn’t happened. But she said Congress should be able to work with the health industry to make improvements, rather than starting from scratch.

“The Affordable Care Act has been up to the Supreme Court twice, a very conservative court that ruled on it. I think anyone that tells you it’s going away anytime soon is just selling a bill of goods,” Fayard said.

Former state Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Troy Hebert, who is running without a party affiliation, said he doesn’t like the federal health law - and he blamed both Democrats and Republicans for its problems. Hebert hammered that theme of independence throughout the forum.

“Are you sick and tired of the ignorance and the stupidity coming from both parties in Washington?” he said. “I think it’s time that we sent both parties a message.”

On another issue, candidates split on whether it was appropriate for the U.S. Department of Justice to block two planned mergers of large health insurance companies, with Republicans largely suggesting the mergers should be allowed in a free marketplace. Fleming diverged slightly, describing himself as “neutral,” but saying the federal health law harmed insurance companies’ viability and spurred the consolidations.

Among Democrats, Campbell and Pellerin said they have concerns the consolidations could create monopolies that lessen competition and drive up prices, while Fayard said businesses should make the decision, not the government. Hebert said the mergers could hurt the “little man.”

Twenty-four candidates are vying for the Senate seat on the Nov. 8 ballot. Nine were invited to Wednesday’s forum, and eight participated. The seat is open because Republican David Vitter isn’t running for re-election.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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