BILL BRADLEY: Unveils Universal Health Care Plan
Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley yesterday revealed his vision for the nation's health care system, a program that would grant the federal government broad powers in ensuring cradle-to-grave health coverage. At a speech in Van Nuys, CA, Bradley said, "In 1994 President Clinton sought to provide health insurance for all Americans. That attempt failed. It is time to try again -- but in a different way" (La Ganga/Brownstein, Los Angeles Times, 9/29). The plan would effectively eliminate Medicaid, requiring low-income parents to enroll their children in private insurance or the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan. The federal government would subsidize the entire premium for poor families, with a tax credit available to those with higher incomes. Rather than contribute to Medicaid expenses, states "would be required to provide long- term institutional care for the chronically ill." Adults 19 to 64 would also be eligible to join FEHBP, and all adults would be able to deduct health premiums from their taxes. For the elderly, Bradley would create a prescription benefit that would require a $25-per-month premium, a 25% co-pay and a $500 annual deductible (Benedetto, USA Today, 9/29).
Bradley said the plan would "extend benefits to 95% of the 45 million Americans without medical coverage today." But he was less clear on some key details, "raising questions about both price tag and political feasibility." He said the $65 billion cost of the program would be borne by the federal surpluses, but "where the money would come from in the event of an economic downturn is unclear." Elaine Karmack, Vice President Gore's chief issues advisor, said, "At that rate of extra spending, you can't guarantee Medicare solvency." Bradley also "doesn't know yet" how he would "enforce his requirement that all parents enroll their children in some sort of medical coverage until age 18" (Los Angeles Times, 9/29). One aide said, "No one is going to go to jail. We're going to try to get as much cooperation as we can" (Jordan/Rankin, Knight Ridder/Akron Beacon Journal, 9/29). Bradley also defended his plan after the speech, even taking a swipe at Gore. He said, "I think what he has proposed is definitely timid compared to what we have proposed" (Goldschlag, New York Daily News, 9/29). Bradley added, "There is no better example of the difference between the kind of presidencies that we would lead than this comparison. The difference is between trying to do something big to deal with a big problem that affects everyone in America, and continuing to be someone that advocates incremental change" (Wolffe, Financial Times, 9/29).
Will It Fly?
CNN's Bill Schneider said, "It certainly lived up to its billing -- it's big and it's bold, so much so that some Americans may be asking, haven't we been here before?" ("Inside Politics," 9/28). But some suggested that Bradley's plan may indeed be politically palatable. Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) said, "I think it makes a whole lot of sense, and I think people in the country think that with record economic performance and the economy doing so well, of course we can afford to do this" (FOX News, "Special Report," 9/28). Princeton University health economist Uwe Reinhardt said, "He's obviously trying to straddle the delicate road between (providing universal insurance) without having to come with the heavy hand of government and mandating all this stuff" (Balz/Goldstein, Washington Post, 9/29). The Health Insurance Association of America, with whom Bradley consulted on the proposal, also praised the effort. President Chip Kahn said, "We commend Senator Bradley for offering a realistic and thoughtful proposal to address the nation's most pressing domestic priority: to provide health coverage to uninsured Americans" (release, 9/28).