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2018 House candidates weigh in on Obamacare

Secretary of State Shantel Krebs, a 2018 candidate for U.S. House of Representatives, speaks at a forum in Mitchell in October. Fellow candidate, former Judge Tim Bjorkman, at left, listens. (Evan Hendershot / Republic)

The focus has shifted to tax reform on Capitol Hill, but three of South Dakota's candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives still have an eye on improving the nation's health care system.

When visiting Mitchell this month, Democrat Tim Bjorkman spoke with The Daily Republic about various issues, but the discussion kept returning to health care reform. A former judge and lawyer, Bjorkman spoke of his experience seeing people's lives destroyed when they were denied insurance due to pre-existing conditions.

Through any adjustment to the Affordable Care Act, Bjorkman thinks protection for those with pre-existing conditions should be maintained.

"I've seen what it's like to work with a family whose lives are crushed by being denied coverage," Bjorkman said.

But, Bjorkman said, maintaining protections for people with pre-existing conditions comes with a "trade-off."

Bjorkman said insurance mandates are essential. Without mandates, Bjorkman sees a future in which Americans won't be denied coverage from hospitals and their medical bills will be passed along to other taxpayers through bankruptcy or indigent care.

"If you're going to cover people with pre-existing conditions, you've got to have a system that has everybody in it," Bjorkman said. "It's a moral fallacy to say that you can do one without the other."

One of his potential competitors in the November 2018 election, S.D. Secretary of State Shantel Krebs, suggested the issue of patient protections can be addressed once the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

Krebs said the ACA, or Obamacare, is "broken," premiums are increasing and employers are dropping coverage for employees. Although Republicans in Congress have failed to repeal or replace the ACA after many attempts over the past several years, Krebs said it "must be fully repealed."

"Once it has been repealed, we can work to provide safeguards and protections for those with pre-existing conditions," Krebs said in an email to The Daily Republic.

Krebs' GOP primary competitor Dusty Johnson, who lives in Mitchell and is a former official on the state's Public Utilities Commission, was clearer on his support for patient protection.

"I believe pre-existing conditions should be covered, especially for those who maintain continuous coverage," Johnson said in an email.

But Johnson hopes to see more flexibility given to states in how they want to provide health care coverage for residents.

"In the past, some states have used risk pools or 'guaranteed issue' to address this problem," said Johnson, a former staffer for then-Gov. Mike Rounds. "Those solutions may be a better fit for some states than the approach utilized by Obamacare."

Rounds, now a U.S. senator, helped craft the state's risk-pool plan in the early 2000s designed to provide patients rejected for insurance with coverage. Rounds, a Republican, declined to endorse a candidate in the GOP primary, although he said he would support the Republican primary winner in the general election.

The trio of candidates spoke with The Daily Republic during the week of a candidate forum in Mitchell. Democrat Chris Martian and independent George Hendrickson did not attend the forum.