Democratic Presidential Candidate Sen. John Kerry Discusses Health Care With Small Business Owners
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) on Tuesday met with a group of employers and workers at Kentucky-based Louisville Stoneware to discuss his proposals to reduce health care costs for small business owners and employees, the Washington Post reports (VandeHei, Washington Post, 5/12). In addition, Kerry met with a group of business owners and veterans at a mall in Jacksonville, Fla., where he criticized President Bush for "cutting veterans' benefits" and "sought to portray Bush as more interested in tax cuts for the wealthy than affordable health insurance for small businesses and their employees," the Miami Herald reports (Clark, Miami Herald, 5/12). Kerry held the two meetings as part of a four-day, health care-focused campaign launched on Monday (California Healthline, 5/11). According to the AP/Washington Times, a group of small business owners in Louisville told Kerry that "they were most worried about health care costs that are forcing them to lay off workers, cut benefits and search for coverage plans." Kerry said, "We can't just stand back and pretend that they aren't struggling. We have to help them cover these costs, stay competitive so they can create jobs and help our economy grow" (AP/Washington Times, 5/12).
According to the New York Times, Kerry has proposed a health care plan that in large part is "geared toward small businesses, which he sees as the engine of the nation's economy." The plan would allow small businesses to participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and would provide them with tax credits to cover as much as 50% of the cost of health insurance premiums for employees who make less than 300% of the federal poverty level, or an estimated $55,000 for a family of four (Wilgoren, New York Times, 5/12). In addition, the plan would expand public health insurance programs such as Medicaid and SCHIP. The plan also calls for the federal government to assume the costs of workers whose annual health care expenses exceed $50,000. Kerry has said that he would finance the plan, which would cost an estimated $653 billion over 10 years, through the repeal of tax cuts enacted by Bush for families with annual incomes higher than $200,000 (California Healthline, 5/11). On Wednesday, Kerry plans to hold a town hall meeting at a community center in Orlando, Fla., to discuss health care and meet with a group of health care workers at several nursing homes in Florida (Miami Herald, 5/12).
The Bush campaign criticized the plan as "too costly, too complicated and too reliant on the federal government," the Post reports. Steve Schmidt, a Bush campaign spokesperson, said, "America's small business owners have a clear choice next November between President Bush's consistent support of policies to help small business owners provide health care for their employees and John Kerry's election-year pledges that defy his own 19-year record of blocking pro-small-business policies" (Washington Post, 5/12). Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) added that Bush has proposed a "dramatically better" health care plan than Kerry, adding that the plan Kerry has proposed "would lead to the nationalization of our system in a number of areas while leaving out large segments of the population" (Washington Times, 5/12). Carole Jordan, chair of the Republican Party of Florida, criticized the plan Kerry has proposed as "a disaster for families across Florida" that "would create a taxpayer subsidized, socialist health care system in which competition is non-existent" (Miami Herald, 5/12).
The decision by the Kerry campaign to launch a health care-focused campaign this week is "right on target," Jeff Birnbaum, a writer for the Washington Post, says in a "Marketplace" commentary (Birnbaum, "Marketplace," MPR, 5/11). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.