The Post Star - 'UPSTART' DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE MAKES HIS CASE

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GLENS FALLS — Democratic congressional candidate Patrick Nelson said he “absolutely opposes” legislation U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, recently co-sponsored to clarify non-discrimination rules for workplace wellness programs.

“Their argument is that it will reduce health-care costs. There is not any evidence that it will,” he said, speaking at a campaign “town hall” forum Monday at Crandall Public Library.

The legislation, dubbed the “Preserving Employee Wellness Act,” clarifies rules for employee wellness programs, including those that utilize a health risk assessment and biometric screening, to provide discounts or increase premiums for certain categories of employees, such as those who are overweight or smoke.

“Health promotion and prevention programs are a means to reduce the burden of chronic illness, improve health and limit the growth of health care costs,” the legislation — HR 1313 — reads.

The American Society of Human Genetics, a professional organization of researchers, college professors and nurses, opposes the legislation, claiming it would allow employers to “ask invasive questions” about genetic history and could penalize employees who choose not to disclose the information.

“Frankly, I think your health is a personal thing, and how you take care of your body is your business,” Nelson said, referring to the legislation, which was the topic of the first question at his campaign forum.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., the main sponsor, has said the legislation contains privacy protections.

Nelson, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Stefanik in 2018, said the legislation is emblematic of a generally unwise strategy to health care.

“This is one of the problems when we tie health insurance to employment,” he said.

Nelson said allowing anyone to buy coverage under the federal Medicare program would be “a good first step” to a better health care system.

“My favorite health care system in the world is the French system,” he said. “Let’s look around the world. Let’s find the best ideas in health care.”

He did not specifically mention or discuss the recent House Republican proposal to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s health care plan at the forum, but he said the general Republican strategy is based on an incorrect assumption that changes will create more demand for health care services, and hence bring down the cost of services.

“If open heart surgery is free tomorrow, who is going going to go out and get open heart surgery?” he asked.

Nelson has previously said he does not support the House Republican plan.

Stefanik would not comment for this report.

“There will be time for politics, but right now Rep. Stefanik is focused 100 percent on her job representing hard-working North Country families in Congress,” said Tom Flanagin, the congresswoman’s spokesman.

“It’s March. It’s not an election year. And you folks have come out to hear what an upstart candidate has to say,” said Nelson of Stillwater, a 27-year-old political activist and Bernie Sanders delegate to the 2016 Democratic national convention.

After brief opening remarks, he took questions for about 90 minutes on health care, the environment, defense, immigration, fundraising strategy and party unity.

“We’re tenants on this planet, and when we leave, we turn it over to a new tenant,” he said.

Nelson said regulations can be frustrating to small business owners, but the overall Republican regulatory reform strategy is based on rewarding large, profitable companies.

Nelson said the Republican regulatory strategy works just the opposite of the National Basketball Association draft.

“We run it the other way. The champion gets the pick of the next draft,” he said.

He was articulate, authoritative and humorous as he took typically progressive stances on issues.

“I’ve joked, but I’ll make this point: that the president can have his (Mexican border) wall so long as it’s built out of solar panels, because it at least will take care of one problem,” he said.

He said his campaign will focus on issues, not personalities.

“We wish her (Stefanik) all the best and hope that she does a good job,” he said.

Nelson said diversity “should be celebrated,” not discouraged.

He said immigrants, documented and undocumented, contribute to the economy.

He said the United States can have a “strong defense” without being militaristic.

“Every bomb we build is a loaf of bread taken from a starving man,” he said.

Stefanik already had $542,189 on hand for her re-election bid as of Dec. 31, the date of the most recent campaign finance report.

Nelson said he can be competitive if he is able to get 100,000 people around the nation to contribute $21 each to his campaign, based on Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign model.

He reiterated he will not accept contributions from corporate political action committees.

Nelson said he will attempt to attract Republican voters by identifying common issues he agrees with them on.

“I’ll tell you about a person who doesn’t exist — and it’s the person who disagrees with you on everything,” he said, adding, “Now, I understand that’s (reaching agreement) going to be difficult on climate change.”

About 55 people attended the forum, a good turnout for a typical forum but far less than the turnout for a town hall forum, separate from the Nelson campaign, held at the library in February that Stefanik was invited to attend but did not.

A capacity crowd of 165 people attended the previous forum, and about 100 more gathered at an overflow forum in the library lobby.

Nelson’s campaign isn’t focused on the number of people at this point, said Matt Hayner, a campaign spokesman.

“We’ll take anybody who is interested in hearing Patrick speak,” he said.

Patrick Nelson