GEORGE W. BUSH: Proposes Tax Credits to Help Uninsured
Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush yesterday unveiled his "first effort" to address Americans' health care concerns, proposing a tax credit of up to $2,000 annually to help the working poor purchase coverage, the Washington Post reports. Bush aides estimated the plan's cost at $42 billion over five years, with "by far the biggest chunk" -- $39.6 billion -- earmarked for a series of health care initiatives (Neal, 4/12). Under the plan, uninsured, low-income Americans who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid would be granted a tax credit of up to $1,000 per individual or $2,000 per family to cover 90% of the cost of insurance. As individual income rises to $15,000 annually and family income hits $30,000 a year, the tax credit would begin to phase out (Calmes/Murray, Wall Street Journal, 4/12). According to the Bush camp, the tax credits would help as many as 18 million people buy basic coverage that allows "visits to a doctor, discounted prescriptions and hospitalization." Bush said, "We will not nationalize our health care system. We will promote individual choice. We will rely on private insurance. But make no mistake: in my administration, low-income Americans will have access to high-quality health care." Bush yesterday also said he would "give states more leeway in how they administer the Children's Health Insurance Program," encourage small businesses to develop multistate health plans and expand options for medical savings accounts.
Reacting to Bush's proposal, rival Vice President Al Gore yesterday accused the Texas governor of trying to "divert attention from the deplorable state of health care ... in Texas." And some analysts questioned if the tax credits would be enough. Noting that "the average cost in 1998 for a group family [health insurance] policy was $4,092" for fairly large employers, health care costs expert Diane Rowland of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation doubted that the credits would cover 90% of insurance. Individuals buying coverage for their families would pay "much higher" rates than employers unless cheaper policies could be created, but they "would not cover much," she said (Mitchell, New York Times, 4/12). Economist Kenneth Thorpe said Bush's tax credits would cover "about a third of a typical family's cost for health insurance," enticing about 3.1 million currently uninsured people to obtain coverage, and offering a new benefit to about 10 million people who already buy their own insurance. The plan, he said would cost about $10 billion per year and $135 billion over 10 years (Washington Post, 4/12).