Mehmet Oz, the Republican nominee for Senate in Pennsylvania, gave a confusing response about veterans' health care during an interview with a Pittsburgh radio station last week.
The station 90.5 WESA asked Oz about the PACT Act, which expands health care coverage for veterans exposed to toxins in the course of their service. The interview took place a few hours before recalcitrant Senate Republicans finally agreed to support the legislation.
Oz called for the bill's passage and said he believed that veterans should be enrolled in the same insurance system that members of Congress receive from the Affordable Care Act's private health insurance exchanges.
"I actually think they should get the same insurance I get if I'm serving in the U.S. Senate," Oz said. "They've done everything you could ask an American to do, and they've already paid their fee and they're not getting what's deserved of them — in this case, health care access."
"These folks risked their lives," he added.
The Department of Veterans Affairs' Veterans Health Administration provides health care coverage to U.S. military veterans and provides free treatment for all service-related injuries — a benefit exclusive to veterans' health care.
By contrast, senators receive health care coverage through the private health insurance exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
While VA hospitals have come under fire in the past for long wait times, studies have found that the public health care system is superior or equal to privately run hospitals on measures of patient satisfaction and quality of care.
Oz's apparent confusion about how the VA works is particularly glaring because he trained to become a medical doctor at Philadelphia's own VA Medical Center.
And his support for Senate health insurance is particularly odd given the changing stances he's taken on Obamacare, which set up the exchanges that senators use to receive health care.
Although Oz endorsed Obamacare in a 2010 video he appeared in for the health care advocacy group The California Endowment, his campaign recently walked back his support for President Barack Obama's signature health care law.
Brittany Yanick, a spokesperson for the Oz campaign, told CNN that he "does not support a big government takeover of the health insurance industry" and "would not have voted for Obamacare."
In a 2016 interview with Fox Business, Oz called Obamacare "a very brave effort to include more Americans in the health care system" but said that "the problem with it though is that there was compromise required to get it passed, which limited its ability to address the quality of care and more importantly the cost of care."
The Oz campaign did not return a request for comment.
Oz, who moved back to Pennsylvania in 2020 after living in New Jersey for 30 years, has tried to mold his experience as a physician and reality television star into a compelling campaign message. He claims to have "scars" from taking on the pharmaceutical industry, and his campaign website lists health care as one of the core planks of his pitch to voters.
But Oz, whose net worth is north of $100 million, is heavily invested in Big Pharma companies, according to financial disclosure documents. Those companies include Johnson & Johnson, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and PanTheryx, a biotechnology company on whose board he sits.
His campaign also took $5,800 in donations from Nostrum Pharmaceuticals Founder and President Nirmal Mulye, who quadrupled the price of an essential antibiotic — a move which he described as a "moral imperative."
"I think it is a moral requirement to make money when you can ... to sell the product for the highest price," Mulye told the Financial Times in 2018.
Former President Donald Trump, who endorsed Oz during the Republican primary, also has a checkered history on veterans' health care. In 2018, Trump signed the VA MISSION Act, which some critics say has led to worse health outcomes and more expensive care for veterans.
Oz is running against Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat, for the state's Senate seat left open by retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA). A recent Fox News poll has Fetterman leading Oz 47% to 36% among registered voters.
Reprinted with permission from American Independent.