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Presidential Candidates Discuss Health Care

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Six Republican presidential candidates on Saturday at St.Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., participated in a debatehosted by ABC Newsand Facebook during which they addressed health care and otherissues, the Los Angeles Timesreports.

During the debate, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.)criticized the pharmaceutical industry. He said, "Why shouldn'twe be able to reimport drugs from Canada? It's because of the powerof the pharmaceutical companies." McCain added, "We shouldhave pharmaceutical companies competing to take care of our Medicareand Medicaid patients." In response, former Massachusetts Gov.Mitt Romney said, "Don't turn the pharmaceuticals into the big,bad guys." McCain said, "Well, they are."

"No,"Romney said, adding, "Actually they're trying to create productsto make us well and make us better, and they're doing the work of thefree market. And are there excesses? I'm sure there are, and weshould go after excesses. But they're an important industry to thiscountry" (Decker/Finnegan, Los Angeles Times,1/6).

Former Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn.) criticized Romney forhis enactment of a Massachusetts health insurance law that requiresall state residents to obtain coverage. Romney said that he supportscertain mandates, to which Thompson responded, "The ones youcome up with." Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Rep.Ron Paul (Texas) also participated in the debate (AP/St.Petersburg Times).

Democratic Debate

After the Republican debate, four Democratic candidatesparticipated in a debate on the same stage during which theyaddressed health care and other issues, the St. LouisPost-Dispatch reports (Herman/Shepard, St. LouisPost-Dispatch, 1/6).

In a discussion of their recordson health care, former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) discussed his effortsto pass a patients' rights bill, and Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) citedhis efforts to reduce the influence of lobbyists on legislationrelated to health care and other issues. In response, Sen. HillaryRodham Clinton (N.Y.) said that the patients' rights bill neverbecame law and that Jim Demers, the co-chair of the Obama campaign inNew Hampshire, works as a lobbyist for pharmaceutical companies(Kornblut/Balz, WashingtonPost, 1/6). Obama communications director Robert Gibbssaid Demers is a state lobbyist with no involvement in federallegislation. He said that in the campaigns ban on taking money fromlobbyists, it distinguishes between state lobbyists and those wholobby on the federal level (Kuhnhenn, AP/Google.com,1/7).

Clinton also criticized Obama because his health careproposal would not require all U.S. residents to obtain healthinsurance. She said, "You stop short of going the distance tomaking sure that we have a system that can deliver health care foreveryone" (Sherman, PittsburghPost-Gazette, 1/6). Obama "could have a pretty gooddebate with himself because, four years ago, he was for single-payerhealth care," Clinton said, adding, "Then he moved toward arejection of that, a more incremental approach. Then he was foruniversal health care. Then he proposed a health care plan thatdoesn't cover everybody" (Liebowitz, ConcordMonitor, 1/6).

Obama said, "I have beenentirely consistent in my position on health care" (PittsburghPost-Gazette, 1/6). Obama said that such a mandate is notnecessary because most residents who do not purchase health insurancemake the decision based on cost, not a lack of desire to obtaincoverage (Washington Post, 1/6). He added, "What Isaid ... is if I were designing a system from scratch, I would set upa single-payer system." But given the existing health caresystem in which so many people already receive coverage throughemployers, such a change would be impractical, he said (Liebowitz,Concord Monitor,1/6).

Other Appearances

Earlier on Saturday, Clinton appeared at a high school inPenacook, N.H., to discuss her health care proposal. She said,"People should stand for universal health care ... moreindependents and even Republicans are now understanding that it ismorally and economically imperative" that the U.S. providehealth insurance for all residents. In addition, Clinton said, "Whois ready to be president on Day One?" adding, "We've got 47million uninsured Americans. We have an economy that is faltering"(Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1/6).

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Obama on Saturdayappeared at a Nashua, N.H., high school. He said, in reference to hisvictory in the Iowa Democratic caucus, "What we saw during thispast week was the American people rising up and saying to each otherthat we are on the cusp of creating a new majority ... that willactually deliver on the promises of health care" (Nagourney, NewYork Times, 1/6).

Additional Coverage

  • Edwards: Edwards recently "has been bashing big health\tinsurers" with the story of Nataline Sarkisyan -- a 17-year-old\tgirl who died after Cigna\trefused to cover a life-saving liver transplant that she required --\tas part of his call for health care reform, the Wall Street\tJournal reports. Cigna initially rejected coverage for the\tliver transplant but later reversed the decision. However, Sarkisyan\tdied before she could receive the transplant. Edwards said that\tSarkisyan "lost her life ... because her insurance company\twould not pay for a liver-transplant operation." He added, "We\tneed a president who will take" on health insurers\t(Fuhrman/Meckler, Wall Street Journal, 1/7).


  • Election issue: The U.S. health care system is "sick,\tand the presidential hopefuls are ready to play doctor," the\tSt. Louis Post-Dispatch\treports. According the Post-Dispatch, the "ailments\tare clear: The cost of health care and insurance premiums have\tskyrocketed, and the ranks of the uninsured have swelled" --\tboth of which have "badly frayed the current health care\tsystem, in which employers are the leading source for health\tinsurance and the government provides a safety net for the poor and\telderly." Employers have begun "balking at insurance costs\tand shifting more of [them] to workers," and lawmakers face\t"new demands for health care programs at a time of growing\tbudget deficits," the Post-Dispatch reports.\t"Health care has been catapulted to the top of the priority\tlist in terms of domestic issues voters want to hear about,"\tRon Pollack, executive director of Families\tUSA, said, adding, "In the past, health care has often been\tviewed as an issue of altruism for somebody else. ... This issue has\tnow been transformed into an issue of self-interest." A "spat"\tamong Democratic candidates over whether to require people to obtain\thealth coverage "will pale in comparison to the confrontation\texpected once each party determines its nominee," the\tPost-Dispatch reports. "The Democrats are aiming\tfor universal coverage and the Republicans are not," said Larry\tLevitt, vice president of the Kaiser\tFamily Foundation. "Once we come to the general election,\tthere will be a very clear divide between the major party\tcandidates," and health care is likely to become a significant\tbattleground by this summer (Shesgreen, St. Louis\tPost-Dispatch, 1/6).


  • General election issue: "Spiraling medical costs,\ttighter government budgets and a presidential election are three big\treasons why health care will be front and center as an economic\tissue" in the 2008 general election, the Orlando\tSentinel reports. Des Cummings, executive vice president\tfor corporate development for Florida\tHospital, said, "If the war in Iraq is not the next\tcenterpiece (in 2008), health care will be." As a result of the\t"front-loaded primary system that could determine the parties'\twinners by February," the debate over health proposals from the\tDemocratic and Republican presidential nominees "could dominate\tthe entire year," according to the Sentinel\t(Wessel, Orlando Sentinel, 1/7).

Editorial, Opinion Pieces

  • Wall Street Journal: The health care proposals\tfrom Clinton and Obama both would "create a public insurance\toption managed by the government," implement "more\tstringent regulations on insurance companies" and "institute\tnew taxes on business," but the "main substantive\tdifference" is that Clinton would "dictate that everyone\thave health insurance," rather than only children as Obama\tproposes, according to a Journal editorial. Both\tproposals "speak to aspirations" to "use incremental\tsteps to gradually achieve a government-run health care system --\tand Mr. Obama's steps aren't grand enough" for liberals,\taccording to the editorial. "However, it turns out, this less\tthan Grand Guignol ought to provide a warning to Republicans,"\tthe editorial states, adding, "Whatever the minor policy\tdifferences among Democrats, their major domestic ambition is ...\tthe government takeover of the health care market," and the\tRepublican nominee "will need a free-market alternative and a\tway of explaining it that is more concise and compelling than we've\theard so far" (Wall Street Journal, 1/7).


  • Tarren Bragdon, Wall Street Journal: "Clinton\tis running for president, in part, on a platform that calls for more\tgovernment health care. So let's ask a question that may hit a\tlittle too close to home: Why does New York spend more on Medicaid\t-- a health care program for the poor -- than every other state but\tstill have a larger portion of its population walking around without\thealth insurance than states that spend far less?" Bragdon, a\thealth policy analyst with the Empire\tCenter for New York State Policy at the Manhattan Institute\twrites in a Journal opinion piece. He continues, "One\treason is that New York has made private health insurance too\texpensive for many people by imposing a long list of mandates"\ton health plans. According to Bragdon, a "better path would be\tto reinvigorate the private, direct-pay health insurance market"\tthrough the establishment of a new "risk pool" for\thigh-cost patients, possibly "subsidized by a tiny surcharge on\tother policies." He adds that the pool would allow health\tinsurers to "charge rates that more closely track the actual\tcost of providing health care to individuals." In addition,\tBragdon writes, "The evidence suggests ... that almost\teverybody could buy private insurance if carriers were allowed to\ttailor plans to meet consumers' needs" (Bragdon, Wall\tStreet Journal, 1/5). \t


  • Matthew Collier/Lisa Walsh, Wall Street Journal:\t"Given the trajectory of health care costs and the growing\tnumber of uninsured people, it's no surprise that health care reform\tis a top agenda item in the 2008 elections," but the "real\tsurprise is that some of the nation's largest insurers are starting\tto recognize that selling insurance in a subsidized market might be\ta good business to be in," Collier and Walsh, senior members of\tglobal health care practice at Bain,\twrite in a Journal opinion piece. Health insurers have\tbegun to understand that the "nation's 47 million uninsured are\tnot as bad a risk as is commonly assumed" and that they "no\tlonger can afford to ignore the uninsured market" because their\t"core business -- selling group plans to large employers -- is\tstagnant," the authors write. They add that "this means\tthat their greatest source of future growth is selling policies to\tindividuals -- not corporations." The authors conclude, "For\tthe insurance industry, the bottom line is simple. No matter what\thappens with insurance reform, a new market is emerging. The winners\twill be those who prepare now for a world where individuals matter"\t(Collier/Walsh, Wall Street Journal, 1/7).

Reprinted with permission fromkaisernetwork.org.You can view the entire KaiserDaily Health Policy Report, search the archives, andsign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report ispublished for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J.Kaiser Family Foundation.