Congress needs to take action on soaring health care costs, a faltering economy and public lands, Democratic candidate for the 3rd Congressional District Diane Mitsch Bush said.
Mitsch Bush, a former Routt County commissioner who also served in the State House from 2013-2017, is making her second bid for the U.S. House. She faces Republican nominee Lauren Boebert, who defeated a five-time incumbent for her party’s nod.
“At the very whole-nation level, our democracy is clearly in some danger,” Mitsch Bush said Thursday. “We need for us, the people of the 3rd Congressional District, a representative who has the experience to lead. We need a representative who actually listens to us, looks at the data and the evidence, and really knows how to legislate. This is not a time to have inexperience.”
The current COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 170,000 Americans and spawned an economic downturn, is only the most current crisis, she said, citing fires and the past recession. Dealing with those issues requires leadership and bipartisanship, she also said.
“I have those skills. I want to use my skills at bringing people together across the aisle,” Mitsch Bush said.
While in the Colorado Legislature, Mitsch Bush worked with representatives of both parties from across Colorado, which was vital to achieving legislation, she said.
“I think my record shows I take that very seriously,” the candidate added.
“We have crises gripping our district, state and country right now. I think I have the skills and experience to help solve them.”
COVID-19 presents both a health and an economic disaster, however, the economy wasn’t working for everyone even before the pandemic hit and the situation has gotten worse, Mitsch Busch said.
People in the 3rd District have to spend a lot to obtain health coverage and prescription medication, she said. In Montrose County, few insurance carriers offer plans on the state’s public health exchange, where people without coverage can purchase it. The exchange also provides subsidies for those who qualify.
Mitsch Bush said she will work to reduce premiums, deductibles and prescription drug costs; end surprise medical billing practices; allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices and increase coverage for mental health.
“Health care costs here are just so difficult for people. We pay some of the highest premiums in the country,” she said.
“We need to make sure we protect the Affordable Care Act. It’s not perfect. It needs a lot of tweaking. But the protections for preexisting conditions is something we see as really, really important.”
Mitsch Bush said that before the ACA, many could not even get insurance because of preexisting conditions, sometimes, even minor ones. In the 3rd District, a high proportion of people do not have employer-based insurance and cannot afford to purchase it, so they rely on Medicaid, which states were allowed to expand under the ACA, Mitsch Bush said. She said high health care costs drive down the economy and trigger bankruptcies.
For Mitsch Bush, a critical component of lowering drug costs is allowing Medicare to negotiate the prices, like the Veterans Administration does, bringing in costs that are about one-third of Medicare.
Also, insurance functions essentially as a monopoly nationwide, and it’s not enough to say “let the system work,” because it doesn’t, Mitsch Bush said.
“We need to help people get coverage. The exchange is one way to do that, but I think there are a host of other ways, too, and one of them certainly is to support all kinds of options that are available.”
Others have floated allowing people younger than 65 to buy into the current Medicare program, or another public option, she said.
“I do think we are in an emergency situation, because so many people lost their jobs (because of COVID),” Mitsch Bush said, noting that insurance is primarily tied to employment.
“Right now is not the time to do something overly dramatic. We just need to make sure people are covered to the greatest extent we can. I don’t want people in our district to be in the situation of having to choose between rent and health coverage,” she said.
High deductibles and copays also cause people to defer care and delayed care can ultimately lead to medical emergencies and ER visits, at a greater cost, Mitsch Bush said.
“That makes the whole community sicker. People do put things off. They get sicker. It really is almost like a death spiral.”
Other matters need the attention of Congress, she also said: “People are hurting in so many ways, not just from COVID and the economy. Right now, it’s fire and drought.”
Several wildfires are burning in Colorado and the entire state is locked in drought conditions that in Montrose County are categorized as severe. Mitsch Bush said during her time as a Routt County commissioner, she worked with federal land management agencies on agreements and other ways to address such issues.
“That’s the kind of crisis I know how to negotiate,” she said.
Mitsch Bush sees public lands as the lynchpin to the broader economy, particularly on the Western Slope.
“We need to ensure that public lands remain public and are not sold off to the highest bidder,” she said.
Public lands are the source of some of the state’s water and significant wildlife habitat, which needs to be kept healthy for the outdoors-based economy, Mitsch Busch said.
“That outdoor economy is a major economic driver here. We see it in Montrose, at Mayfly (Outdoors). That is a very important company. Those are well-paying jobs. It’s a company that really cares about the economy and it probably wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for public lands,” she said.
She added that she wants to protect public land access for grazing and water, in order to ensure the agriculture-based economy. If sold to the highest bidder, none of those uses is likely to continue, the candidate said.
COVID-19 has exacerbated the existing problem of jobs that do not pay a living wage, hammering industries like retail, restaurants and lodging, whose workers, Mitsch Bush also said.
To rebuild the economy in a sustainable way, with better paying jobs, continued outdoor manufacturing businesses need to be encouraged. “In order to do that, we are going to need to improve our infrastructure,” Mitsch Bush said, pledging to push hard for related legislation in Congress, particularly for transportation, broadband, water and the electric grid.
“Our infrastructure is crumbling … We need to invest in infrastructure,” she said. Doing so creates jobs at the outset and, once built, such infrastructure has an economic multiplier effect that tends to to new business and business expansion, according to Mitsch Bush.
Increased broadband availability is critical, as the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to more telehealth use, has shown, yet a disproportionate number of people in the 3rd are without internet access, she said.
“We’ve got to change that and we can do that with federal investment,” Mitsch Bush said, going on to praise Delta-Montrose Electric Association for its efforts to increase broadband service.
Mitsch Bush circled back to bipartisanship, saying she would work with the GOP if elected, just as she had done in the state Legislature and further, that she did not have a problem standing up to House leadership when necessary.
The 2020 race for Congress is markedly different from her 2018 face-off against Rep. Scott Tipton, she said.
“I’m not going up against a five-term incumbent, but a person who really is quite extreme. There is a real, clear choice for voters,” Mitsch Bush said.
Boebert, who has been characterized as supporting the internet conspiracy movement Q-Anon, in July denied being a follower of it and said she Democrats want to strip away rights and freedoms.
“I want to listen to people,” Mitsch Bush said. “That’s what you do as a candidate, but that’s what you do as a member of Congress, too.”
Because of COVID-19, Mitsch Bush is conducting much of her campaign via technology like Zoom, saying it is important to be a good role model.
“I am very excited about the race and I am particularly excited about the potential of me representing the people. I’m not in this to be a celebrity,” Mitsch Bush said.
“I have the experience and skills to help solve the problems that we all face. That’s what I want to do in the U.S. Congress.”