A rural Virginia native is digging in, hoping to secure the June nomination and go on to challenge incumbent Ninth District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith for his seat in the November election.
But first, Justin Santopietro must best Anthony Flaccavento, of Abingdon, in the June 12 primary.
During a Saturday visit to Patrick County, Santopietro, of Blacksburg, shared some of his ideas on everything from healthcare to how to attract millennial voters.
Santopietro said the current healthcare system is a “mess. It’s too expensive, and the only way forward is a ‘Medicare for all’ plan.”
Currently, Medicare is a federal health insurance program for those aged 65 or older, those with some disabilities and select others.
“The general idea is we have this and it works pretty well,” Santopietro said, adding he would expand Medicare and open up membership in three steps, or tiers.
The first, he said, would be extending care to veterans, who would pay no premiums, deductibles or co-pays. They also would not be subject to so-called donut holes, which essentially are coverage gaps in prescription drug coverage.
Moving veterans to Medicare also would alleviate some of the pressure on the Veterans Health Administration, by allowing access to healthcare that may be closer to home, he said.
The second tier would include reclaiming the Medicaid program from states which operate the current program differently and unifying it by raising the current eligibility threshold for Medicaid.
That would allow others to qualify, he said, and explained those eligible under the new threshold, along with those currently receiving Medicaid, would then be transferred to Medicare, where they would “pay small co-pays, but no premiums,” he said.
When the third tier and final tier was rolled out, Santopietro said Medicare would be opened to the general public, who could buy into the program. Premiums would be based on income, and the level of care would be similar to that currently available.
His proposal does not include a requirement to switch, and anyone happy with their current coverage through an employer provide plan would be allowed to keep that plan, he said.
One of the biggest issues in the district is Internet connectivity, he said.
“Southside and central Virginia have the worst coverage in the state,” Santopietro said. “This needs to be a whole new federal initiation, not just Southside and central Virginia, but in all of Virginia, grants are needed to get fiber optic cables” installed.
The cables then would connect to a municipal building, such as a school, he said. From there, the signal could be broadcast and picked up and used in homes.
“This is not about advancing,” he said. “This is about catching up.”
Santopietro said a portion of funds allocated to federal defense could be reallocated to infrastructure and other projects.
He also favors eliminating the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax to put more money into the coffers of employees and employers.
FICA is a federal payroll tax, with employees and employers each paying 7-percent, with the resulting tax proceeds used to fund Social Security and Medicare.
The tax “sucks the money right out of people’s paychecks and right out of our community,”
Santopietro said. The easiest way to boost the bottom line for employers and employees “is to stop taking the money out,” he said.
Santopietro holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in legislative affairs, both from the George Washington University.
In Washington D.C., he has worked in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and also as a Regulatory Policy Analyst at the Credit Union National Association, where he was promoted into CUNA’s Legislative and Regulatory Advocacy Department.
“These experiences in and around the U.S. government gave me countless opportunities to meet and interact with Americans of all cultures, colors, and creeds. I learned crucial lessons from my front row seat to Washington’s action- and inaction,” Santopietro said.
“My proximity to the gears of government allowed me to learn firsthand how Washington really works, and how it doesn’t. As I trudged through D.C. in those years, I gradually got to see how the sausage was made, and what people and organizations really held the levers of power in our nation’s capital,” he said.
Santopietro said he now is ready to use that knowledge and experience to be Southwest Virginia’s “effective and unwavering voice in Washington.”
Santopietro, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Virginia’s 9th Congressional District, visited Stuart on Saturday to discuss some of his ideas and heard concerns from those that attended the meeting. (Photo by Amanda Collins)