Saturday, May 10, 2008

McCain plan to reform health care: It's scary

May 3, 2008
McCain plan to reform health care: It's scary

If Iowans think the Democratic presidential candidates have radical ideas when it comes to reforming health care, they ought to listen carefully to what's being proposed by Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee.

Des Moines was among McCain's stops this week in spreading the word about his health-care plan. He talked again about his plan to shift the country from an employer-based system of insurance to one where individuals and families purchase insurance on their own. He would encourage this by eliminating tax breaks for businesses offering health insurance and providing breaks to individuals who purchase coverage.

The proposal should scare the heck out of the millions of Americans who rely on employer-based coverage. Iowans who have tried to buy affordable coverage on their own know they need more than a tax credit and good health. Sometimes they need a winning lottery ticket.

Buying individual policies means having your health history reviewed. It means not having the bargaining power and protections that come with being part of a plan offered by an employer. And it's expensive.

So before McCain tries out this dangerous experiment on the American people, he should conduct a sort of pilot project - by starting with the man in the mirror.

After all, McCain's "employers" are the taxpayers of this country. Let him and other members of Congress ditch their employer-based insurance and go shopping on the open market. Rather than relying on the huge bargaining power of the federal government, let them negotiate cheaper and better health plans on their own.

The senator is 71. He's had his share of health problems, including melanoma. Perhaps private-sector health insurers will line up to offer him an affordable plan that doesn't exclude coverage for his pre-existing conditions.

And McCain - who is also eligible for taxpayer-supported Medicare - should consider extending his ideas to the over-65 crowd. He said this week he rejects a "big government" takeover of health care. It doesn't get much bigger than the more than 40 million Americans who rely on Medicare. As baby boomers retire, the program will grow more. McCain might suggest dismantling Medicare and sending seniors out to purchase insurance on their own - with help from a tax credit, of course - and see what voters think of that idea.

The senator is correct that the employer-based system of health insurance in this country isn't working. Businesses are saddled with the high costs of coverage, putting them at a competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace. Insurance shouldn't be tied to jobs.

But the more reasonable solution is to offer everyone what Medicare already offers: health coverage financed by a combination of tax dollars and participant contributions, thus allowing the huge bargaining power of millions of Americans to leverage down costs.

That idea is nowhere near as radical as forcing millions of Americans to shop for their own coverage in a profit-driven, private-insurance sector.

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