Leading Virginia Republican US Senate candidate downplays health care importance

An unused gurney rests in the emergency room hallway outside one of the treatment rooms at the Alliance Healthcare System hospital in Holly Springs, Miss., Feb. 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

By Michael O'Connor

May 16, 2024

“No one in the US is like, ‘Oh my gosh, I will die if I don’t have health care,’” Hung Cao, the leading candidate in Virginia’s Republican US Senate primary, told a right-wing media outlet on May 15.

The leading candidate in Virginia’s US Senate Republican primary claims Americans are not worried over whether their health care will keep them alive.

Asked how the US could fix its healthcare system, Hung Cao said in a May 15 interview with the right wing outlet TNT Radio: “Well, the first thing we don’t need is universal health care. And if you don’t believe me then go to Canada.”

Cao continues: “No one in the United States is like, ‘Oh my gosh, I will die if I don’t have health care,’ because hospitals are required by law to take you in.”

But then Cao apparently contradicts himself a moment later when he claims that hospitals are turning away people at the US-Mexico border because they are too crowded.

“These hospitals down there are getting depleted, and they have to turn away United States citizens so they can take care of the illegal immigrants,” Cao said.

Do Americans not need health care because emergency rooms have a responsibility to stabilize them? Or are emergency rooms so overcrowded in some places, they are not an option for people there?

Cao responded to Dogwood’s request for comment after this story published, saying in an email he opposed any changes to Medicare that would threaten access to health care for seniors, denouncing Medicare for All, and claiming America’s health care system is the best in the world.

“We deserve lower health care costs, greater access, and more choice — for American citizens, not illegal aliens,” Cao said.

Health care in America

The truth is Americans do care about their health care – very much so in fact – and health care is a life saver. Also, America has some of the worst health outcomes, despite health care costing Americans far more when compared with other wealthy countries.

“If you were to ask families across Virginia, ‘Would you prefer to have health coverage or not?’, I think the vast majority would likely say they want to be covered and insured,” said Freddy Mejia, The Commonwealth Institute’s policy director.

People without health insurance are less likely to get physicals that can catch problems early on because it’s too expensive, and delays in care can lead to greater health problems, said Mejia.

“People will just plow through and work through minor symptoms because they can’t afford a visit to the emergency room to get things checked out,” said Mejia, who has worked in free health clinics. “That can lead to some really scary situations down the line.”

If everyone in the US had health care it would prevent about 68,000 deaths a year, according to a 2020 study published by the medical journal The Lancet. The figure is actually a conservative estimate because it doesn’t factor in the lives saved for people who have insurance but avoid care because they can’t afford their copays and deductibles, an author of the study told Newsweek.

More than 50% of Americans said the availability and affordability of health care is a problem they worry about a great deal, according to a March 2024 Gallup survey. And in Virginia almost 60% of Virginians listed reducing health care costs as what they think should be the top priority for their governor and the General Assembly, according to a January 2024 poll by The Wason Center.

It is the case that the US health care system needs improving. Americans die younger and are less healthy than people in other high-income countries, despite the US spending nearly 18% of its GDP on health care in 2021, according to a 2023 report by The Commonwealth Fund. The US is the only high-income country that does not have universal health coverage, the report said.

Who is Hung Cao and why should people care?

Cao is one of five candidates competing in the Republican primary on June 18. The winner will go on to face Sen. Tim Kaine in the general election on Nov. 5. Cao has raised more money than his rivals and is expected to be the Republican nominee.

Cao ran to represent Virginia’s 10th District in the US House of Representatives in 2022 but lost to Rep. Jennifer Wexton by 6.5% of the vote, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

Kaine, a former Virginia governor first elected to the US Senate in 2012, is viewed as likely to win in November given his popularity and that Virginia tends to lean Democratic.

But Kaine’s victory is not guaranteed. Virginia currently has a Republican governor who has endorsed Trump. Still, a Republican presidential candidate has not won in Virginia since 2004, despite Trump’s hopes of breaking that streak.

Kaine’s communications director, Michael Beyer, said in an email that Cao’s stance on health care policy would make Virginians sicker, poorer, and more stressed out. By contrast, Kaine fought for Affordable Care Act provisions that provided affordable health care to hundreds of thousands of Virginians and protected people from discrimination based on pre-existing health conditions, Beyer said.

“Hung Cao is out of touch with the concerns of everyday Virginians,” Beyer said. “People do die from a lack of health care, and they die earlier here than in other nations due to lack of health care access.”

Cao on climate change and race

Cao also questioned humanity’s role in causing climate change and blamed global warming in part on Canadian forest fires during the interview.

“It’s false science,” Cao said of climate change research.

Asked about his position on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, Cao said, “Communism goes by many names, right? Communism, Marxism, socialism and now equity.”

Cao said that equity means “everybody finishes the same.” But that isn’t true. Equity means making sure everyone, especially racial minorities that have been and continue to be discriminated against in the US, get the same opportunities.

“Even (if) your color is white, you shouldn’t be held back because of that,” Cao said, in an apparent appeal to Trump voters opposed to racial justice.

 

  • Michael O'Connor

    Michael is an award-winning journalist who has been covering Virginia news since 2013 with reporting stints at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Virginia Business, and Richmond BizSense. A graduate of William & Mary and Northern Virginia Community College, he also covered financial news for S&P Global Market Intelligence.

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