They talked of astronomical medical bills. Never-ending fights with insurance companies. A driving desire for more preventive care.
Democrat Jon Ossoff held a roundtable Friday with women’s health advocates and breast cancer survivors as his campaign stepped up the attack on Republican Karen Handel’s stint at a breast-cancer charity.
A split on abortion is one of the starkest contrasts between the two candidates in the nationally-watched June 20 runoff to represent suburban Atlanta’s 6th District. And both candidates are banking that their positions will energize their supporters in the final stretch of the race.
The two rivals have traded ads and accusations in the last week over Handel’s short-lived tenure at the Susan G. Komen Foundation and its high-profile aftermath. And Friday's event was also an attempt by Ossoff to remind potential Handel supporters of that episode.
Joined by his fiancée Alisha Kramer, a medical student studying to be an OB-GYN physician, the advocates urged him to expand access to Planned Parenthood and double-down on the Affordable Care Act.
“The cost of my treatment was astronomical,” said Jenny Itkins, a retired nurse and breast cancer survivor. “Why? I know that it’s money. It’s greed. But I don’t understand why we’re not focused on why we can’t just provide healthcare for our citizens.”
Melissa Pike, a former chair of Cobb’s Democratic party, told Ossoff that he should fight to defy Republicans in Congress who have sought to restrict federal funding of Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions as well as breast cancer screenings and preventive care.
“We have to have the actual Planned Parenthood facilities open,” said Pike. “And by defunding Planned Parenthood, they’ve dramatically reduced the access to those preventive health services.”
Ossoff said the discussion reminded him that the healthcare debate in Congress is about “families, lives, people who are under immense stress already.”
The focus on Handel’s time at the Susan G. Komen Foundation was inevitable as the campaign became a running battle between national Democrats and Republicans. As vice president for policy, she engineered the foundation’s 2012 decision to halt its partnerships with Planned Parenthood. She resigned soon after amid a furious backlash that alienated many staunch supporters of the charity.
In an interview, Handel said she would push to boost funding for community health centers – there are four in the district and no Planned Parenthood facilities – because they are more accessible to residents.
“They are the front lines of healthcare for poor women, and they offer services everyone needs access to,” she said of the health centers. “I want to see more dollars go there so we really are offering more women access to healthcare.”
Asked about her position after Friday’s roundtable, Ossoff called it “nonsense.”
“We need both,” he said. “What we don’t need is for career politicians to be imposing their rigid personal views at the expense of public health in Georgia.”
Handel spokeswoman Kate Constantini said if Ossoff was the "independent thinker he claims to be" he would back more funding for community health centers already in the district.
"What is nonsense is a 30-year-old man with no experience playing identity politics with women's health," she said.
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