Dem Presidential Candidates Support Universal Coverage
Seven Democratic presidential candidates appearing at a forum on Saturday promised to work toward universal health care if elected, the Chicago Tribune reports.
Speaking to a crowd of 1,000 mostly union members at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, the candidates -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Sen. Christopher Dodd (Conn.), former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), former Sen. Mike Gravel (Alaska), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Gov. Bill Richardson (N.M.) -- differed on how they would implement universal coverage and whether they might require additional tax revenue (McCormick, Chicago Tribune, 3/25).
All seven candidates generally agreed that health care coverage should be universal; more of an investment is needed in prevention and management of chronic illnesses; the government should create insurance pools with the purpose of sharing risk and reducing overall costs; and health records should be electronic, according to the Las Vegas Sun (Coolican/Mishak, Las Vegas Sun, 3/25).
The forum was sponsored by the Service Employees International Union and the Center for American Progress Action Fund, and it was moderated by Karen Tumulty of Time magazine (Balz, Washington Post, 3/25).
At the forum, Clinton discussed government assistance programs similar to Medicare, incentives for preventive care and a $200 million electronic health record system as ways to achieve universal health care, adding she wants health care to be "the No. 1 voting issue in the '08 elections" (Thrush, Long Island Newsday, 3/25).
Clinton said that if health care costs were controlled, there would be enough federal money remaining to fund universal coverage (Hunter, Chicago Sun-Times, 3/25). On the issue of tax increases, Clinton said she does not "think we should start with the position where we say we're going to increase all of these costs by putting more money into a system that is broken. We have to fix the system."
Edwards -- the only candidate to have offered a specific, detailed universal health care proposal -- said that he would fund his plan, which would cost $90 billion to $120 billion annually, by repealing tax cuts for U.S. residents earning more than $200,000 a year. Edwards said, "I do not believe you can have universal health care without finding a source of revenue" (Washington Post, 3/25). Edwards' plans would mandate that employers provide insurance to their workers or pay into a fund that would finance coverage for the uninsured (Pear, New York Times, 3/25).
Obama said that more important than an actual plan for universal coverage is whether there is "the political will and sense of urgency to actually get it done" (Barabak, Los Angeles Times, 3/25). Obama said that in the next few months he will be crafting a specific plan for universal coverage to be implemented by January 2013. Obama added that he supports the creation of federal and state purchasing pools that would allow employees to opt out of employer-sponsored health care.
Dodd said his experience in Congress building relationships with lawmakers would help him begin work on health care legislation from the moment he took office. Dodd also said he would support legislation that would make it easier for nurses to form unions.
Kucinich called for a not-for-profit, single-payer system.
Gravel also supported the idea of a single-payer system and said he would distribute health care vouchers for U.S. residents to purchase coverage.
Richardson said he would fund his health care improvements -- which would include tax credits to help people buy coverage and an option for those ages 55 to 64 to purchase Medicare coverage -- by shifting funding from the military to health care and by "get[ting] out of Iraq" (New York Times, 3/25).
Edwards said the country needs "big, bold, dramatic change, not small change" (Barrett, Raleigh News & Observer, 3/25). Edwards, referring to his wife's recent cancer recurrence, added, "It's not right that a woman has to go through -- or anyone has to go through -- this kind of struggle and have to worry about the medicine they need, the health care that they need. No American should have to worry about that" (Chicago Tribune, 3/25).
Obama said, "I can tell you I will do whatever it takes" to implement universal health care, adding that "we shouldn't underestimate the amount of money that can be saved in the existing system" (Hennessey, AP/Orlando Sentinel, 3/25).
Clinton said that health care reform "will be a series of steps," adding, "What we have to do is persuade the country."
John Podesta, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, said, "We have high hopes that what happens in Las Vegas will actually leave Las Vegas and set the tone for the entire presidential campaign" (Chicago Tribune, 3/25).
NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday" reported on the forum. The segment includes comments from Edwards, Obama, Clinton, SEIU President Andrew Stern and Richardson (Jaffe, "Weekend Edition Sunday," NPR, 3/25). Audio of the segment is available online.
In addition, NPR's "All Things Considered" on Saturday included a discussion with correspondent Ina Jaffe, who reported on the forum for NPR (Elliot, "All Things Considered," NPR, 3/24). Audio of the segment is available online.