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NY-21
Health care access, cost are issues in congressional race

The three candidates on the November ballot in the NY-21 Congressional District race want to expand access to health care and lower costs, but they differ on how large of a role government should have.

Democrat Tedra Cobb and Green Party candidate Lynn Kahn support the Medicare for All concept. Republican U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, opposes a government-run system and is focusing on increasing choice for consumers.

Tedra Cobb

Cobb said she is open to solutions that achieve the goal of increasing coverage.

“I’ve always talked about the fairness of ensuring that every person has portable and affordable health care,” she said.

Cobb said she is open to the idea of Medicare for All. She said the advantage is that the administrative costs of Medicare are about 2 percent compared with somewhere between 18 percent and 25 percent in the private insurance companies.

Cobb said health insurance coverage in the United States could be some type of hybrid system with expansion of Medicare.

The Medicare for All bill introduced in Congress would fund the program by increasing income taxes on the top 5 percent of income earners, implementing an excise tax on payroll and self-employment income and implementing taxes on unearned income and stock and bond transactions, according to the www.GovTrack.us website.

A study by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University estimates that the Medicare for All plan would cost $32.6 trillion over 10 years.

However, Cobb said this is misleading because it does not take into account the cost savings that would result if everyone were covered. She said lowering health insurance costs would alleviate the health care burden on local municipalities and school districts.

“Twenty to 25 percent of school budgets now are health care costs — not teachers, not books, not AP (Advanced Placement) courses, but health care,” she said.

Cobb said Stefanik does not understand the impact of people who lack insurance on the health care system.

“They show up at the hospital too late and their health care costs are more expensive than if we were providing them with preventive care,” she said.

Cobb worried about the loss of protections for people who have pre-existing conditions. She said she has firsthand experience with the issue because she was hired to get the St. Lawrence Health Initiative nonprofit off the ground. The organization had received a $19,000 grant with the overarching goal of increasing access to health care for the uninsured and under-insured, improving nutrition and fitness, and tackling substance abuse.

On her website, Cobb states that her other goals are to ensure federal funding for rural hospitals and clinics, promote preventive care and wellness programs, fund addiction programs and connect nutrition programs with local farm initiatives.

Cobb said that in a country that is as wealthy as the United States, everyone deserves to be covered. Health care is simply a fairness issue, she said.

“We have people who work two and three jobs and they don’t have health care (coverage). There’s something wrong,” she said.

Lynn Kahn

Kahn said she also supports the concept of Medicare for All.

“I believe in universal health care and this piece of legislation comes the closest to putting in place some of the pieces to get there,” she said.

Kahn also disputed that large tax increases would be needed to pay for expanded health care. During her campaign, she has repeatedly stressed the fraud she believes exists in the federal government. She said she believes there is $300 billion worth of savings in just cutting fraud in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security disability alone. She also believes the Pentagon budget could be cut.

However, Kahn said she believes the bill underestimates how long it would take to put this system in place.

Kahn said Medicare for All would be a hybrid system with private insurance still available. She said it makes sense to build on the shell of the Affordable Care Act.

In the short term, she said she would support any legislation that aims to reduce the cost of medication. One solution is for the federal government to retain more control over the taxpayer-funded research used to make these drugs.

“We’re paying for the really difficult research that private pharmaceutical companies grab,” she said, adding that those companies are able to charge big prices.

She said the country should allow for re-importation of private drugs from Canada and cap prescription drug costs.

There needs to be quicker marketing of generic alternatives, she said. Kahn said another idea is creating a NASA-like agency for drug production. She said it is a national security issue.

“A thousand-dollars-a-pill is not going to help us if we have a disastrous epidemic, because there are new bacteria and new viruses being released due to global warming,” she said.

Kahn said the North Country is isolated and it is important to improve health networks.

She also supports medical marijuana and alternative medicine. There may be different approaches needed, she said. She suggested peer counseling as a way to combat the suicide rate.

“I believe in the power of veterans helping veterans, of farmers helping farmers,” she said.

Rep. Elise Stefanik

Stefanik, R-Willsboro, voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“I have been on Obamacare. I have seen it doesn’t work. I have seen how it is expensive in terms of out-of-pocket costs,” she said.

Stefanik does not support a single-payer system.

“Both Vermont and California tried to pursue single-payer and it financially didn’t work with their state budget,” she said.

Stefanik said she does not support Medicare for All because, she said, it will cost more than a trillion dollars in new taxes. She said she wants broader flexibility for people to purchase health care to fit their needs and the ability for small businesses to pool together to buy health insurance.

She does not support a government-run health care system and she pointed to the Department of Veterans Affairs as an example.

“Government does not do a good job about providing health care,” she said.

Stefanik said she has a record of supporting bipartisan health care legislation, including a bill that President Barack Obama signed into law to repeal the auto enrollment mandate, which required employers with more than 200 full-time workers to automatically enroll new employees to an employer-sponsored plan.

Stefanik also has worked to obtain funding for community health centers, reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program and obtain $27 million in funding for rural hospitals.

She also supported bills to repeal the medical device tax, and to extend the Community Health Investment, Modernization and Excellence Act to extend funding for five years. The funding extension benefits organizations such as Hudson Headwaters Health Network, North Country Family Health and Community Health Center of the North Country.

Stefanik is co-sponsoring a bill with a Democratic lawmaker, which would increase from one to two the number of primary care visits that are totally covered by insurance.

She also supports associated health plans, which allows small businesses to pool together to purchase health care.

Stefanik pointed to some recently passed bipartisan bills, which would force pharmacists to disclose to customers if there are lower-cost generic options to the medicines they are taking. Also, she said she wants to speed up the FDA drug approval process.

Stefanik said health care will continue to be an issue — regardless of who is elected.

“I think everybody agrees that we have a broken health care system,” Stefanik said.

NY-21 candidates weigh in on immigration policies, proposals

From dairy farms to apple orchards to universities to hospitals, many in the North Country rely on immigration — but the policies that affect their lives are decided not here, but in Washington. And the North Country will be represented in that decision-making process in Washington by one of three women who are currently running for Congress.


Local
AP
Cuomo says limo shouldn't have been on road; victims mourned
Queensbury man, Troy woman from Fort Ann killed in Saturday's accident in Schoharie

SCHOHARIE — The supersized limousine that crashed and killed 20 people outside a country store failed a safety inspection last month and shouldn't have been on the road, and the driver wasn't properly licensed, New York's governor said Monday.

The state moved to shut down the owner, Prestige Limousine, as state and federal authorities investigated the cause of Saturday's wreck in Schoharie. The company said it was taking its cars off the road while conducting its own probe into the crash.

The crash came three years after another deadly stretch-limo wreck in New York state spurred calls for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to examine such vehicles' safety. There is no evidence the state took any steps to do so.

As victims' relatives tried to come to grips with the tragedy that happened as a group of friends and family were on their way to a 30th birthday party, authorities had yet to say how fast the limo was going or determine why it failed to stop and sped off the road at the bottom of a long hill.

The 19-seater vehicle had at least some seat belts, but it was unclear whether anyone was wearing them, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said.

Investigators plan to examine the mangled limo's data recorders and mechanical systems as well as the road, which has a history as a danger spot. They are also looking into the driver's record and qualifications and conducting an autopsy to see if drugs or alcohol were factors.

But officials already saw some red flags, Cuomo said: The driver didn't have the necessary commercial license, and the vehicle failed a state inspection that examined such things as the chassis, suspension and brakes.

"In my opinion, the owner of this company had no business putting a failed vehicle on the road," the governor said while attending a Columbus Day Parade in New York City. "Prestige has a lot of questions to answer."

He also said the limo — built by cutting apart a heavy-duty SUV and lengthening it — had been created without federal certification, though NTSB officials said they hadn't yet determined whether the vehicle met federal standards.

Prestige Limousine issued a statement Monday expressing condolences to victims' families and saying it was conducting "a detailed internal investigation" while also meeting with state and federal authorities.

The Gansevoort, New York-based company said it pulled its cars from the road voluntarily. But state police say they seized four Prestige cars, including the one that crashed.

Federal records show the company has undergone five inspections in the past two years and had four vehicles pulled from service.

In inspections Sept. 4, the company's limos were cited for defective brakes, lack of proper emergency exits, flat or balding tires, defective windshield wipers, and other maintenance problems.

Federal transportation records show Prestige is owned by Shahed Hussain, who worked as an informant for the FBI after the Sept. 11 attacks, infiltrating Muslim groups by posing as a terrorist sympathizer in at least three investigations. In one case, he helped convict men accused of plotting to bomb New York synagogues.

His role at the FBI was assailed by civil liberties groups, who accused him of helping the FBI entrap people. Asked Monday about Hussain, the FBI wouldn't comment.

The limousine, built from a 2001 Ford Excursion, ran a stop sign at a T-shaped intersection at the bottom of a hill and slammed into an unoccupied SUV.

Investigators have yet to determine whether the driver tried to brake. The crash left no visible skid marks, but that might be due to misty weather or anti-lock brakes, Sumwalt said.

Authorities haven't released the driver's name, but friends and relatives identified him on social media as Scott Lisinicchia.

"The investigation is STILL going on and the facts are not verified," his niece, Courtney Lisinicchia, wrote on Facebook.

The wreck killed two pedestrians and all 18 people in the limousine, including four sisters who were headed with friends and relatives to a brewery for a party for one of the sisters.

The four sisters' aunt, Barbara Douglas, said they had felt "they did the responsible thing getting a limo so they wouldn't have to drive anywhere."

"My heart is sunken. It's in a place where I've never felt this type of pain before," said Karina Halse, who lost her 26-year-old sister Amanda.

More than 1,000 people jammed into a park in Amsterdam to honor the victims and their families Monday night.

"We are crushed with you. We are crushed for you," U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko told a crowd that spilled onto a bridge spanning the Mohawk River. Some relatives shed tears as a woman sang "Amazing Grace." The ceremony ended with everyone lifting their candles above their heads in unity.

The crash appeared to be the deadliest land-vehicle accident in the U.S. since a bus full of Texas nursing home patients fleeing 2005's Hurricane Rita caught fire, killing 23. Saturday's wreck was the nation's deadliest transportation accident of any kind since a 2009 plane crash near Buffalo, New York, killed 50 people.

Factory-built limousines must meet stringent safety regulations. But luxury cars converted to limos, like the one in Saturday's crash, often lack such safety components as side-impact air bags, reinforced rollover protection bars and accessible emergency exits.

Few federal regulations govern limos modified after leaving the factory. Regulations often vary by state.

"It certainly is the Wild West out there when it comes to limousines and stretch vehicles," said National Safety Council CEO Deborah A.P. Hersman.

Ford said in a statement that it has never made its own stretch version of the Excursion. It did certify outside companies to modify them to Ford specifications for up to 14 seats during the 2001 model year, but it wasn't clear who modified the SUV that crashed Saturday.

After a stretch limousine was T-boned on New York's Long Island in 2015, killing four women, a special grand jury implored Cuomo to examine the safety of such vehicles.

It appears the task force was never formed, and nearly three years after the grand jury's recommendation, it was unclear what, if anything, Cuomo's administration did in response.

"I don't know if there was a task force set up," the governor said Monday, while suggesting that Saturday's crash didn't necessarily point to a need for more regulation.

"Sometimes, people just don't follow the law" that already exists, he said. "And that may very well be what happened here."

The New York grand jury report recommended state lawmakers require stretch limousines that seat nine or more passengers to meet the stricter inspection regulations that apply to buses.

Lawmakers, including Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, asked federal officials several years ago to raise safety standards for stretch limos modified after manufacture.


Local
Queensbury man, Fort Ann native mourned in fatal limo crash

Both the driver and one of the passengers in the country’s deadliest transportation accident since 2009 lived in the area, and both are being mourned now.

The limousine driver in Saturday’s deadly crash lived in Queensbury, and friends are raising money for his funeral.

Scott Lisinicchia was driving the limo that crashed in Schoharie, killing 20 people.

He was married to Kim Green-Lisinicchia, who for years provided free makeovers in Glens Falls through her nonprofit, Fashion for Prosperity. It was designed for victims of domestic violence, people who were homeless and those who had achieved sobriety after addiction.

Green-Lisinicchia posted the GoFundMe link on Facebook before saying she would be leaving Facebook while she grieved.

“I want to thank you all for your prayers and comfort,” she wrote. “It hurts me to a core to have to bury my husband. I miss him so very much ... I love you Scott.”

The GoFundMe campaign for him can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/68a0zs8/. It was organized by a friend who only identified herself as Thea.

All money raised will go toward funeral expenses. As of Monday afternoon, $650 had been raised.

One of the passengers, Amanda Halse, 26, was originally from Fort Ann.

Halse still has family in the area, although she was most recently living in Troy.

Amanda’s sister, Karina, visited the crash scene on Monday, saying, “My heart is sunken. It’s in a place where I’ve never felt this type of pain before.”

Amanda was a waitress at a retirement community and was “a very strong and independent person” who didn’t like people to do things for her, according to her sister.

“She would be the one to initiate things,” she said.

Amanda graduated from Fort Ann High School in 2010, winning two awards: Friends of Fine Arts Award for Visual Arts and the Mildred Brown Gould Memorial Award. She played soccer as a defender on the school’s varsity team.

She went on to SUNY Adirondack, where she was on the dean’s list in fall 2011 for maintaining a GPA of 3.2 or higher. According to her Facebook page, she also attended SUNY Oswego and later moved to Troy.

Halse was on the birthday limo trip because her boyfriend, Patrick Cushing, was invited. He was a cousin of another passenger on the trip.

The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the causes of the crash. It was the worst fatal transportation accident in the United States since 2009.

The driver did not have the proper license for a limo, the NTSB said.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report


National
UN report on global warming carries life-or-death warning

WASHINGTON — Preventing an extra single degree of heat could make a life-or-death difference in the next few decades for multitudes of people and ecosystems on this fast-warming planet, an international panel of scientists reported Sunday. But they provide little hope the world will rise to the challenge.

The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its gloomy report at a meeting in Incheon, South Korea.

In the 728-page document, the U.N. organization detailed how Earth’s weather, health and ecosystems would be in better shape if the world’s leaders could somehow limit future human-caused warming to just 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit (a half degree Celsius) from now, instead of the globally agreed-upon goal of 1.8 degrees F (1 degree C). Among other things:

  • Half as many people would suffer from lack of water.
  • There would be fewer deaths and illnesses from heat, smog and infectious diseases.
  • Seas would rise nearly 4 inches less.
  • Half as many animals with back bones and plants would lose the majority of their habitats.
  • There would be substantially fewer heat waves, downpours and droughts.
  • The West Antarctic ice sheet might not kick into irreversible melting.
  • And it just may be enough to save most of the world’s coral reefs from dying.

“For some people, this is a life-or-death situation without a doubt,” said Cornell University climate scientist Natalie Mahowald, a lead author on the report.

Limiting warming to 0.9 degrees from now means the world can keep “a semblance” of the ecosystems we have. Adding another 0.9 degrees on top of that — the looser global goal — essentially means a different and more challenging Earth for people and species, said another of the report’s lead authors, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, Australia.

But meeting the more ambitious goal of slightly less warming would require immediate, draconian cuts in emissions of heat-trapping gases and dramatic changes in the energy field. While the U.N. panel says technically that’s possible, it saw little chance of the needed adjustments happening.

In 2010, international negotiators adopted a goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) since pre-industrial times. It’s called the 2-degree goal. In 2015, when the nations of the world agreed to the historic Paris climate agreement, they set dual goals: 2 degrees C and a more demanding target of 1.5 degrees C from pre-industrial times. The 1.5 was at the urging of vulnerable countries that called 2 degrees a death sentence.

The world has already warmed 1 degree C since pre-industrial times, so the talk is really about the difference of another half-degree C or 0.9 degrees F from now.

“There is no definitive way to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 above pre-industrial levels,” the U.N.-requested report said. More than 90 scientists wrote the report, which is based on more than 6,000 peer reviews.

“Global warming is likely to reach 1.5 degrees C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate,” the report states.

Deep in the report, scientists say less than 2 percent of 529 of their calculated possible future scenarios kept warming below the 1.5 goal without the temperature going above that and somehow coming back down in the future.

The pledges nations made in the Paris agreement in 2015 are “clearly insufficient to limit warming to 1.5 in any way,” one of the study’s lead authors, Joerj Roeglj of the Imperial College in London, said.

“I just don’t see the possibility of doing the one and a half” and even 2 degrees looks unlikely, said Appalachian State University environmental scientist Gregg Marland, who isn’t part of the U.N. panel but has tracked global emissions for decades for the U.S. Energy Department. He likened the report to an academic exercise wondering what would happen if a frog had wings.

Yet report authors said they remain optimistic.

Limiting warming to the lower goal is “not impossible but will require unprecedented changes,” U.N. panel chief Hoesung Lee said in a news conference in which scientists repeatedly declined to spell out just how feasible that goal is. They said it is up to governments to decide whether those unprecedented changes are acted upon.

“We have a monumental task in front of us, but it is not impossible,” Mahowald said earlier. “This is our chance to decide what the world is going to look like.”