Gephardt Health Coverage Plan a Central Issue in First Democratic Presidential Debate
Democratic presidential candidates on Saturday discussed how to provide health care to the nation's 41 million uninsured at their first debate, which was held on the campus of the University of South Carolina, the New York Times reports. Health care access "has emerged as one of the critical issues of the race," and Rep. Richard Gephardt's (D-Mo.) proposal to repeal President Bush's tax cuts to provide near-universal health insurance was one of the debate's main focal points, according to the Times (Nagourney, New York Times, 5/4). Under the plan, Gephardt would double the federal subsidy to businesses to pay for insurance premiums to 60% and require employers to provide coverage; expand Medicare to allow individuals ages 55 to 64 to pay to enroll in the program; provide federal subsidies to help the unemployed purchase health coverage through COBRA; expand the CHIP program to cover parents of eligible children; and provide $172 billion to state and local governments over the next three years to reimburse them for the cost of health insurance for their employees. Gephardt has said that the proposal would provide health insurance to 97% of the estimated 41 million U.S. residents who lack coverage. According to the Gephardt campaign, the program would cost $214 billion in 2005 and $247 billion by 2007 (California Healthline, 4/24).
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) "applauded" Gephardt's effort but criticized the plan for not containing health care costs, the Charlotte Observer reports (Morrill et al., Charlotte Observer, 5/4). Lieberman said Gephardt's plan "would take the country back to the days of big government," the Washington Post reports. "We're not going to solve these problems with the kind of big-spending Democratic ideas of the past," Lieberman said (Balz, Washington Post, 5/4). Edwards said Gephardt's plan would transfer money to "big corporate America and assume that they do the right thing." Edwards said repealing Bush's tax cuts would cost middle-class families hundreds of dollars in anticipated savings (Wagner, Raleigh News & Observer, 5/4). Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D), who has "long championed universal health care," said he knew of ways to insure nearly all Americans "at far lower cost" with a plan based on programs he implemented in Vermont, the Post reports. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) said Gephardt's plan did not go far enough; he advocated that the federal government fund "guaranteed, single-payer universal health care" (Washington Post, 5/4).
Gephardt countered by saying his plan would benefit working families, not corporations since it does not give corporations the option to use the money for anything besides health care (Raleigh News & Observer, 5/4). "This is not helping corporations; this is helping corporations give people the thing they most need, which is health care," Gephardt said (Washington Post, 5/4). He added that Bush's tax cuts "have failed" to improve the economy, help people find jobs, or provide health coverage, and they should be repealed altogether to help the Democrats win the 2004 election (Pickler, AP/Tampa Tribune, 5/5). "If you like George Bush's tax cuts, stick with him, vote for him," Gephardt said, adding, "But if you want to finally solve this problem that's bedeviled our people for a hundred years, let's get it done" (New York Times, 5/4).
The following broadcast programs reported on the debate:
- ABCNews' "This Week": The program discusses comments by Edwards, Gephardt and Lieberman on health care (Stephanopoulos, "This Week," ABCNews, 5/4). A video excerpt of the candidates' comments is available in RealPlayer online.
- NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday": The segment includes comments from Gephardt on health care (Liasson, "Weekend Edition Sunday," NPR, 5/3). The full segment is available in RealPlayer online.
- NPR's "Talk of the Nation" today will discuss the Democratic presidential debate in the second hour of the program (Conan, "Talk of the Nation," NPR, 5/5). The full segment will be available after 6 p.m. ET in RealPlayer online.