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Cancer survivors taking sides in Wisconsin governor's race

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A two-time cancer survivor and state lawmaker on Thursday accused Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers of lying when he blames Republican Gov. Scott Walker for rising health care costs, the latest salvo in a battle over who would best look out for people with pre-existing conditions.

A Walker campaign ad featuring Republican state Rep. Mary Felzkowski was released on the same day that Walker announced premiums for private market insurance plans sold under the Affordable Care Act are projected to drop an average of 4.2 percent next year.

The argument over the costs of health care has been a central focus of the race between Evers, a survivor of esophageal cancer, and Walker. Both sides have run multiple ads featuring cancer survivors arguing over who would be the better governor.

Evers supports the national health care law, while Walker has tried for years to repeal it. Walker this year signed off on Wisconsin joining a multistate lawsuit that seeks repeal of the law.

Evers argues that the law should remain in place, particularly because it guarantees coverage for people like him with pre-existing conditions. Walker favors enacting a state law to guarantee coverage, but Evers and other critics say those protections would not be as strong as what's afforded under the law known as "Obamacare."

Twice during the campaign Evers and Walker have released dueling ads featuring cancer survivors.

In September, a Democratic group aligned with Evers ran an ad with a cancer survivor saying she couldn't afford her medicine if Walker succeeded in his yearslong attempt to repeal "Obamacare."

Walker responded with an ad featuring Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, herself a cancer survivor, saying "as long as Scott and I are in office" people with pre-existing conditions will have insurance coverage.

Walker's new ad with Felzkowski comes on the heels of two Evers ads released earlier this week featuring women battling kidney disease and cancer accusing Walker of playing politics with health care.

Polls show health care is a dominant issue for voters this year. It's also played prominently in the U.S. Senate race between Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Republican Leah Vukmir.

In a Marquette University Law School poll of Wisconsin voters released Wednesday, 50 percent said they supported keeping the Affordable Care Act in effect, while 44 percent said they favored repealing it. A large majority, 78 percent, said requiring the coverage of pre-existing conditions was very important. Even among those who wanted to repeal the law, 65 percent said it was very important to require coverage for pre-existing conditions.

At the same time he's fighting the national law, Walker also took steps this year to shore up the private insurance marketplace after enrollment in Wisconsin dropped, fewer providers offered coverage and rates went up 44 percent.

The Legislature, at Walker's urging, passed with bipartisan support a $200 million reinsurance program that takes effect in 2019. Wisconsin joins Minnesota, Alaska and Oregon in offering such a program where the government provides money to health insurance providers to pay about 50 percent of medical claims costing between $50,000 and $200,000 starting next year.

That is expected to result in a premium reduction next year of 4.2 percent, based on a report released by Walker's office from Wakely Consulting Group. It reviewed insurance premium rate filings with the Wisconsin insurance commissioner's office.

Evers campaign spokeswoman Britt Cudaback said until Walker removes Wisconsin from the lawsuit seeking to repeal the Affordable Care Act, "this amounts to nothing more than empty, political spin from a career politician who's worried about his re-election."

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