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US Residents Should Be Able To Buy Into Government-Run Health Plan

Armen Hareyan's picture

The Los Angeles Times on Monday examined how Democraticpresidential candidates Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Barack Obama(Ill.) and former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) "have been sniping at eachother for months over health care," although they each have proposed thatall U.S. residents "have the choice of buying a government-run planmodeled on Medicare." The candidates acknowledge that their proposals are "broadbrush strokes for now," but the "consensus among the three meansthat, if a Democrat is elected, a new government insurance plan for the middleclass could well be part of the strategy for tackling one of the nation's mostworrisome problems," according to the Times.

Such a system, "which would set up a competition between a new governmentplan and private insurance programs," is "one of the mostfar-reaching and controversial proposals for making health insurance moreaffordable and more widely available," the Times reports."Of all the states that are considering [reforms], none have set up apublic plan to compete with private plans," according to former CMSAdministrator Mark McClellan.

"It's generally assumed that the government plan would cost less than manyof the private options," but "it's not clear whether that wouldnecessarily give it an advantage," the Times reports. Somehave raised concerns that a government plan could become a "dumping groundfor the most seriously ill -- and expensive -- patients," as private plans"cherry pick those least likely to file large claims," according tothe Times. Others have suggested that the government plan couldunderbid, and later replace, private plans.

However, some experts believe "giving people the option of joining agovernment plan might make for a sensible experiment," the Timesreports (Alonso-Zaldivar, Los Angeles Times, 1/21).

Nevada Caucuses, South Carolina GOP Primary

Clinton on Saturday won theNevada Democratic presidential caucus with 51% of the vote, followed by Obamawith 45% and Edwards with 4%, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won thestate Republican caucus with 51% of the vote, followed by Rep. Ron Paul (Texas)with 14% and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) with 13%, CNN.comreports (CNN.com, 1/22). Entrance polls found that Democratic voters who citedhealth care as the issue most important to them favored Clinton. The polls, conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International, included responses from 1,098Democratic voters and 833 Republican voters (AP/St. Paul Pioneer Press, 1/20). The exit polls forRepublican voters did not include health care as a choice for most importantissue (CBSNews.com, 1/22).

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In addition, McCain on Saturday won the South Carolina Republican primary with33% of the vote, followed by 30% for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, 16%for former Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn.)and 15% for Romney (CNN.com).

Democratic Debate

The three major Democraticpresidential candidates on Monday during a debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., discussed health careand other issues, the Columbia State reports.

During the debate, Clinton and Edwards criticized Obama because his health careproposal would not require all U.S.residents to obtain health insurance. Clintonsaid, "If you don't start out trying to get universal health care, you'llnever get there," adding, "The whole idea of universal health care issuch a core Democratic principle that I am willing to go to the mat forit." In response, Obama said that his proposal seeks to ensure residentscan afford health insurance, adding that enforcing such a mandate "maymean taking money out of people's paychecks" (O'Connor, Columbia State,1/22).

Clinton alsosaid that Obama "basically did the bidding of health insurancecompanies" during his tenure in the Illinois Legislature.

Edwards said that Clinton and Obama should focus on important issues, such ashealth care, rather than attacks on each other. He said, "I also want toknow on behalf of voters in South Carolina, how many children are going to get healthcare because of this? We have got to understand that this is not about uspersonally" (Seattle Times, 1/22).


McCainduring a recent presidential debate in New Hampshiresaid that he supports prescription drug reimportation from Canada, a proposal that "amounts toimporting Canada'sprice controls, a large step toward a system in which some medicines would beinexpensive but many others -- new pain-relieving, life-extendingpharmaceuticals -- would be unavailable," columnist George Will writes ina Washington Post opinion piece. Will writes,"Setting drug prices by government fiat rather than market forces resultsin huge reductions of funding for research and development of new drugs."

According to Will, "McCain's evident aim is to reduce pharmaceuticalcompanies' profits," but "if all those profits weresubtracted from the nation's health care bill, the pharmaceutical component ofthat bill would be reduced only from 10% to 8% -- and innovation would stop,taking a terrible toll in unnecessary suffering and premature death." Headds, "Republicans are supposed to eschew demagogic aspersions concerningcomplicated economic matters," but "applause greets faux 'straighttalk' that brands as 'bad' the industry responsible for the facts that polio isno longer a scourge, that childhood leukemia is no longer a death sentence,that depression and other mental illnesses are treatable diseases, that therate of heart attacks and heart failures has been cut by more than half in 50years" (Will, Washington Post, 1/20).

Reprintedwith permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign upfor email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health PolicyReport is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J.Kaiser Family Foundation.