Democratic Presidential Candidate Edwards Releases Universal Health Coverage Plan That Includes Employer Mandates, Regional Health Insurance Purchasing Pools
Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards on Monday proposed a universal health coverage plan that would raise taxes and impose health insurance mandates on employers, the Washington Post reports (Balz, Washington Post, 2/6). Edwards said the plan would provide coverage by 2012 for the estimated 47 million uninsured U.S. residents and would cost between $90 billion and $120 billion per year (Finnegan, Los Angeles Times, 2/6). Under the plan, employers would be required to provide health insurance for employees or contribute 6% of their payrolls to a fund that would help individuals purchase their own insurance (Broder, New York Times, 2/6). The proposal also would allow employers and individuals to join regional health insurance pools to purchase coverage. The federal government would be required to help states or groups of states establish the not-for-profit purchasing pools or markets (Christensen, Raleigh News & Observer, 2/6). The pools would negotiate premiums and offer competing health plans. At least one plan offered by each pool would be a public health program similar to Medicare (Los Angeles Times, 2/6). In addition, Edwards said the proposal would expand Medicaid and SCHIP to cover more children and low-income parents (Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 2/6). The plan also would provide tax credits or subsidies to low-income families who cannot afford health insurance (New York Times, 2/6).
Edwards said the cost of the proposal would be offset by eliminating tax cuts proposed by President Bush and approved by Congress for households with annual incomes greater than $200,000. Edwards said the program also would be funded by using an estimated $15 billion in capital gains taxes that "go uncollected each year by requiring brokerage houses to report capital gains from taxpayers' stock sales to the Internal Revenue Service, just as interest and dividend income is reported now," the New York Times reports. In addition, Edwards said that billions of dollars could be saved by investing more in preventive care efforts and making the health care system more efficient (New York Times, 2/6).
Edwards said, "This is the shared-responsibility approach to reforming our health care system," adding, "I think it's a dramatic change in the health care system, the kind of transformation it needs. It's a truly universal system" (Washington Post, 2/6). Edwards said he thinks the plan is "appealing across the ideological and political spectrum" (Los Angeles Times, 2/6). Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, credited Edwards with being the first 2008 presidential candidate to announce the details of a comprehensive universal health care plan. Altman said, "This is a plan that borrows from different approaches." However, "None of these plans are easy or without issues that others can attack you on," Altman added. Stephanie Cathcart, a spokesperson for the National Federation of Independent Business, said, "Health care mandates are a non-starter for our members" (New York Times, 2/6). Patrick Toomey, president of the Republican anti-tax group Club for Growth, said that plan would not be well received by most voters, who "already think taxes are too high." Toomey added that the proposal is "very good news for the Republican candidate, whoever that may be" (Wall Street Journal, 2/6). Edwards' two main Democratic rivals for the presidential nomination, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.), declined to comment on the details of Edwards' proposal (New York Times, 2/6).
The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday examined how Edwards' plan "joins an array of proposals already being advanced" by the White House, several states, lawmakers, and insurance and consumer groups. According to the Journal, "With health care shaping up as a major issue in the 2008 elections, more plans are on the way," including from Clinton and Obama. The Journal reports that "the chances of any of these proposals being enacted this year are slim," but "if Congress and the White House are looking to make a deal on something major, they might look to health care." The Journal profiles health coverage proposals from President Bush; Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.); Edwards; states, including California, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania; and the Health Coverage Coalition for the Uninsured. According to the Journal, the plans by Bush and Wyden "have the potential to affect nearly all Americans by fundamentally altering the employer-sponsored system that now provides coverage to 175 million people" (Meckler, Wall Street Journal, 2/6).
WAMU's "The Diane Rehm Show" on Tuesday is scheduled to include an interview with Edwards (Rehm, "The Diane Rehm Show," 2/6). The complete segment will be available online after the broadcast.