Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Democrat Edwards offers universal health care plan

Democrat Edwards offers universal health care plan
By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards on Monday proposed spending up to $120 billion a year to fix a "dysfunctional" health care system by requiring health insurance for all Americans and helping to make it more affordable.

Edwards said his health care plan, the first offered by a 2008 White House candidate, was designed to force private companies, government and individuals to share responsibility for insurance coverage.

The price tag would be covered by eliminating President George W. Bush's tax cuts for those making more than $200,000 a year and by cracking down on unpaid taxes, he said.

He said his plan could succeed where others have failed in part because the political climate has changed. Finding ways to cover nearly 47 million uninsured Americans and make health care more affordable and efficient will be at the center of the 2008 campaign debate, he said.

"Our health care system has grown more dysfunctional in the last few years," Edwards, the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee, said in a Reuters interview.

"The undercurrent for health care reform has become more powerful," he said. "People are concerned, not only about the millions of Americans without health care coverage, but if they have it that they will lose it and the cost is so high."

The plan would create tax credits to subsidize coverage, expand Medicaid and require businesses to offer a comprehensive health care plan to employees or contribute to their coverage through newly created regional non-profit purchasing pools that would offer competing insurance plans and help hold down costs.

Edwards said the plan would allow enough flexibility for consumers to make choices about their insurance without creating extreme burdens on business.

The proposal drew immediate fire from Republican critics, who said Americans would reject any candidate who runs on a platform of higher taxes and more government.

"The 2003 Bush tax cuts produced one of the broadest and strongest economic expansions in the nation's history," said Pat Toomey, president of the anti-tax group Club for Growth.

"It is mind-boggling that John Edwards would seek to derail that expansion for the sake of his big-government, collectivist schemes."

Other Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, support a goal of universal health care but have not offered concrete plans yet on how to get there.

Clinton, the former first lady, presided over the last failed effort to overhaul the health care system in the early 1990s. Edwards proposed increased health insurance coverage for children in the 2004 campaign but stopped short of a universal plan for adults.

He said the problem was worse now and would be one of the top three campaign issues in 2008, along with the war in Iraq and energy dependency.

"We can't make America stronger with incremental changes," he said. "We need significant, transformational change -- it's true in health care, it's true in energy and it's true in how America deals with the world."