Democrats Differ on Health Care Solutions

By Shelbi Thomas and Sara Westergaard
Iowa Presidential

The nine Democratic presidential candidates all agree that the current health care system is flawed, and each of them has his or her own view on how to reduce the number of Americans who are uninsured.

Fourteen percent of the population, or nearly 41 million Americans, are without health insurance, according to a recent report of the American Medical Association.

Under President George W. Bush's proposed plan, 6 million uninsured Americans would receive coverage through a government program granting tax credits to low- and moderate-income citizens to buy insurance. In comparison, each of the Democratic challengers currently proposes plans ranging from providing coverage for 21 million of the uninsured to universal coverage for all Americans.

Among the nine Democratic candidates, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun have proposed the most expensive health care plans. Each supports a single-payer plan, similar to Canada's, that would cover all Americans.

Kucinich would pay for the $1 trillion plan by repealing all of Bush's 2001 tax cuts and phasing in a 7 percent tax on all employers, which would replace their current insurance premium costs.

"He's against privatizing just about everything," Kucinich issues coordinator Julia Prange said. "The important thing to remember is that the money is already there. This won't cost any extra money. He's taking profit out and emphasizing the patient."

Sharpton has not released the details of his proposal but has said he supports adding a constitutional amendment that would guarantee equal access to health care.

Aliya Hague, a strategy and policy researcher for Moseley Braun, said, "Carol supports a single-payer universal health care system based on an already existing plan, the federal employees plan, which would provide coverage to all Americans without increasing the cost of health care."

Moseley Braun's health care plan would be paid for by repealing Bush's tax cuts and raising income taxes, while eliminating employment taxes such as the Medicare payroll tax.

Rep. Dick Gephardt, D- Mo., also supports an aggressive plan covering all Americans at an estimated cost of $214 billion in the first year. His plan calls for repealing the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts.

"Congressman Gephardt thinks that the federal government should guarantee that every single American have access to quality health insurance that can never be taken away. He's got the best plan to do it," said Bill Burton, Gephardt's Iowa press secretary. "It's the biggest, it's the most expensive, but it's a big problem and it needs a big solution."

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman each supports a health plan modeled after the health benefits that federal employees receive. Their plans would cost less and cover fewer Americans than the universal health care plans.

At an estimated cost of $88.3 billion per year, Dean plans to pay for his proposal by repealing parts of the 2001 Bush tax cuts. His plan would provide additional coverage for 30 million Americans.

Similarly, Kerry's health care plan would cover 27 million Americans currently without insurance at a cost of $72 billion a year for the first five years. His plan focuses on providing more affordable coverage to individuals and small businesses.

"Sen. Kerry wants to provide health care regardless of whether people are part of a group or not. He wants to guarantee insurance to all citizens," said Sid Tickoo, an intern for Kerry's national campaign.

Lieberman's proposal would cover 32 million Americans at a cost of $53.4 billion a year over the first five years. His plan emphasizes coverage for children and young adults, as well as expanding opportunities for individuals and small businesses.

"Emory University evaluated all the candidates' health care plans, and mine would cover more people at a lower cost than the other programs. We could try to do it all at once, but it can't happen that way," Lieberman said in September at Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin's "Hear It from the Heartland" forum in Cedar Rapids.

Plans proposed by Sen. John Edwards, D- N.C., and retired Gen. Wesley Clark would, like Lieberman's plans, provide health insurance to all uninsured children.

The signature piece of (Edwards') plan is to provide coverage for every child. It will be affordable and easy for parents to cover their children. His plan will cut costs and increase coverage," said Tait Sye, Edwards' New Hampshire deputy press secretary.

Edwards' health care proposal calls for rolling back Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent, covering 21 million Americans currently uninsured at a cost of $53 billion.

Clark proposes a plan to cover 32 million additional Americans, including all children, at a cost of $695 billion over 10 years. He would pay for his proposal by repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.

Iowa for Health Care, a group of more than 6,500 Iowans with an interest in health care, has been working to provide voters with the information they need to make their own informed decisions about a candidate's health care plans.

According to Stephanie Mueller, communications director for Iowa for Health Care, the group has established four criteria they believe each health care plan should cover. The plans should be both medically and cost effective; complete without gaps in coverage; similar to the variety and choice that federal employees enjoy; and involve the various levels of government.

"Based on these criteria, we're looking for the solution with the greatest chance of success," she said.

Quotes from the candidates

E-mail Shelbi Thomas at [email protected] and Sara Westergaard at [email protected]

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