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Congressman-Elect Anthony Brindisi Takes Questions On AARP Call

Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi

New York State Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi will be sworn in to represent New York’s 22nd Congressional District in January. The Utica Democrat defeated first-term Republican Congresswoman Claudia Tenney in a conservative Central New York district last month.

Brindisi answered questions on a telephone town hall Thursday as he prepares to take office.

Earlier this month, Congressman-elect Anthony Brindisi embarked on a “Thank You Tour” across the 22nd District. Brindisi, a Democrat who unseated Republican Claudia Tenney in a close race, touted the tour as a chance to engage with all people in the district whether they voted for him or not.

Thursday morning, Brindisi held a conference called with AARP members.

AARP New York contends programs like Social Security and Medicare, caregiving, and prescription drug coverage are “all on the line” in the next Congress.

Kat Fisher with AARP asked Brindisi about pressure from pharmaceutical companies against a deal to shrink the so-called prescription drug doughnut hole.

“Last year Congress worked to reduce the cost of prescription drugs by reducing the size of the doughnut-hole coverage gap. Drug companies are once again trying to get Senators to break the deal so they can rise seniors’ drug costs and boost their profits. Should presidential candidates commit to protecting the deal?”

Brindisi, in his answer, called for bipartisan cooperation to address prescription drug prices. On the campaign trail, Brindisi often called for bipartisanship. He recently posted a photo to his official Twitter account of his meeting with Republican John Katko of the neighboring 24th District.

Brindisi said on the campaign trail he heard from many seniors who were forced to make a choice between medication or paying for meals. 

“Unfortunately the drug companies have way too much influence down in Washington. And that’s why they’re doing what they’re trying to do now. But I think we should stand firm and work together as Democrats and Republicans to try and reduce the costs of prescription drugs. I have some ideas on how to do that and hopefully our presidential candidates in 2020, whoever they may be, will get on board as well.”

Brindisi said large pharmaceutical companies are attempting to push smaller and generic drug companies out of the market, creating fewer choices and higher prices for consumers.

He criticized the proposed merger between pharmacy chain CVS and health insurer Aetna, saying it will drive smaller pharmacies out of business.

On Social Security, Brindisi said he would not vote to weaken the program and would strengthen it by raising the earnings cap. It currently sits at $128,000.

“Quite frankly, millionaires and billionaires are not paying their fair share into the Social Security system, which is something that we have to address in Congress in the year – to make sure that it is solvent, that it is protected for this generation, for future generations. But as long as certain Americans are not paying into it, that’s going to create more stress on the system.”

On Medicaid, Brindisi said it must remain a “vital safety net for seniors.”

He also said he’s concerned about the recent ruling by a Texas judge declaring the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. He said his first priority in Washington would be to protect the ACA.

He would not explicitly voice support for a single-payer system, but wants to make sure every American has adequate insurance coverage.

“My fear is that by the constant attacks and rising premiums – because of the uncertainty in the insurance markets – we’re going to lose some very important protections and gains in the last few years. So, number one, we’ve got to work together to come up with some solutions to strengthen the Affordable Care Act.”

More than one constituent on the call asked Brindisi about support for family caregivers. Brindisi said investments should be made in caregivers and other programs to help people live independently. He used the opportunity to attack the Republican-led tax cuts for America’s highest earners.

“In my opinion, tax cuts, while I’m supportive of for folks who are working, middle class individuals, should not be going to the highest earners, millionaires, billionaires, major corporations, creating another $1.5 trillion onto the debt, when we can be making investments in things like caregivers or other programs that will help people live independently.”

Brindisi mentioned his work in the state Assembly on a bill to raise the rate of Medicaid reimbursement for assisted living facilities. The bill, criticized for its financial impact, was ultimately vetoed by Governor Cuomo. 

AARP also conducted a poll question during the call.

Those on the call were asked to vote for their most important issue: Social Security, Medicare, Prescription Drugs, and “all of the above.” The majority of people on the call voted for “all of the above.”

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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