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Clashes on health care dominate debate between Sen. Dan Sullivan and Dr. Al Gross

Candidates for U.S. Senate Sen. Dan Sullivan and Dr. Al Gross faced off in a debate October 23,...
Candidates for U.S. Senate Sen. Dan Sullivan and Dr. Al Gross faced off in a debate October 23, 2020.(KTUU)
Published: Oct. 23, 2020 at 9:43 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Candidates for the U.S. Senate faced off in the second Debate for the State Friday, with significant clashes over health care policy.

Republican nominee and incumbent Sen. Dan Sullivan and independent candidate and Democratic nominee Dr. Al Gross debated multiple issues including COVID-19 relief, Supreme Court appointments, election tampering and public safety in rural Alaska, but it was the points about health care that dominated the debate.

From the beginning, both candidates advocated their health care policy opinions. Gross, an orthopedic surgeon, said Sullivan was about to vote to confirm a judge to the Supreme Court — Amy Coney Barrett — who would vote to get rid of protections on preexisting conditions. In his opening statement, Sullivan said he is in favor of protecting preexisting conditions.

The differences in their health care opinions came to a head when Sullivan was asked early on in the debate if he had a viable replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act and what the replacement would do.

“My opponent has no credibility on health care,” Sullivan began. “You may have seen, he charged, he made $2.5 million working three days a week as a doctor.”

Sullivan said he is against the idea of Medicaid for all, and while he’s voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act because of things like the individual mandate, he says some parts should be retained. He said he wants to keep protections on preexisting conditions in other legislation he’s sponsored.

“What we are focused on is keeping the best parts of the Affordable Care Act, like preexisting conditions, which we still have coverage on and I voted to protect numerous, numerous times and then getting rid of the other elements of the Affordable Care Act,” Sullivan said.

Gross responded to Sullivan’s claim that he is for Medicaid for all saying, “I have never once supported Medicare for all with the elimination of the private health care system. What I’ve done is I’ve studied and written about the drivers of health care costs, and when I get to the Senate, I’m going to be the doctor that gets the public option across the finish line.

“And Dan, it’s not that I made three to five times more than my peers, I charge the same or even less than my peers. It’s that health care costs are three to five times higher in Alaska than they are in the Lower 48."

Gross came to the debate prepared to talk about Sullivan’s record on voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He had a print-out showing each time Sullivan had voted to repeal or block the act in some way and repeatedly raised the paper to speak about Sullivan’s record on the issue.

“You, on the other hand, have voted this many times to repeal the ACA and get rid of coverage for preexisting conditions. You don’t understand health care,” Gross said while holding the paper.

The candidates agreed on a few issues; both didn’t believe the electoral college should be abolished, both thought oil leasing in Teshekpuk Lake should be allowed in some form and both stated opposition to Pebble Mine.

The debate took place at Alaska Public Media’s studios, with Gross attending in person and Sullivan participating remotely from Washington, D.C., where there was a slight delay in connection. At several points in the debate, Alaska Public Media’s Lori Townsend asked Sullivan to wrap up his responses, saying, “We’ll have to leave it there.” Repeated interruptions led Alaska’s News Source anchor Mike Ross to remind the candidates that they had both agreed to stated time limits.

The candidates clashed on several other issues. Sullivan said Gross would give liberals more power in Washington, D.C. and Gross said Sullivan failed Alaska fishermen by granting them little money in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding.

Watch the full debate on Alaska’s News Source’s Facebook page here, and watch the first Debate for the State between U.S. House Candidates Alyse Galvin and Rep. Don Young here.

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