Health Care News From the Campaign Trail for the Week of Feb. 15
- All of the three major presidential candidates likely would "push through major changes in policy," such as proposals to allow reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada and expand health benefits for veterans, the Wall Street Journal reports. Democratic candidates Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) and Republican candidate Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) all support proposals that would allow the federal government to negotiate prices directly with pharmaceutical companies under the Medicare prescription drug benefit. All three candidates also have expressed support for proposals to expand income eligibility requirements for veterans who seek health benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. In addition, all three candidates support proposals to expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research (Frangos, Wall Street Journal, 2/14).
- Clinton and Obama would provide U.S. residents with a "menu of insurance choices similar to those available" through the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program, while plans from Republican candidates former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and McCain seek to "deregulate insurers, arguing that a free market will reduce costs and boost quality." All of the candidates have said that the use of technology, such as electronic health records, and an increased focus on disease prevention and chronic care would reduce health care costs, the Washington Post reports. The Post also examined whether each candidate would: expand health insurance to all residents; require employers to offer coverage to employees; help residents purchase individual coverage; allow the federal government to negotiate prices directly with pharmaceutical companies under Medicare; allow prescription drug reimportation; and expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. According to the Post, "We report candidates' stated positions, not what they'll do if elected. Underlying the health care debate is the matter of cost." The article also includes an interactive graphic illustrating where the candidates stand on health issues (Stoltz, Washington Post, 2/12).
- The "singular difference" between the health care proposals from Clinton and Obama is whether they would require all residents to obtain health insurance, and that difference has "offered clues to the different governing style" each candidate "would bring to the White House," according to The Politico. "Clinton's call for mandatory insurance coverage is as much a negotiating position as a sweeping policy goal" and "recognizes from the outset the deep divides in Washington and the powerful influence of health industry lobbyists," The Politico reports. Many Republicans would oppose her proposal, and, for "success, the New York senator likely would need to strongly unite the Senate and House Democratic caucuses ... under an intense lobbying campaign," according to The Politico. "Obama's approach would be more of a herding strategy," based on the "widely held ... conclusion that health care reform must be done incrementally," The Politico reports. His proposal would have some "allure for moderate Republicans but could draw criticism from Democrats," who favor an expansion of health insurance to all residents, The Politico reports, adding, "The health insurance lobby could also be divided on his proposal: supportive of encouraging new customers while opposing his mandate for coverage of children" (Cummings, The Politico, 2/12).
- On Tuesday, NPR's "Fresh Air from WHYY" included a discussion with Jonathan Oberlander, a professor of social medicine and health policy at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, about the health reform plans of the presidential candidates (Gross, "Fresh Air from WHYY," NPR, 2/12). Audio of the segment is available online.
CNBC on Friday reported on contributions to presidential campaigns by pharmaceutical and health care products companies. The segment includes comments from Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics (Huckman, CNBC, 2/8). Video of the segment is available online.
- On Thursday, Clinton announced a comprehensive economic package that includes her proposal to expand health insurance to all U.S. residents, the Washington Post reports (Weisman/Kornblut, Washington Post, 2/15). During a speech at a General Motors manufacturing facility in Warren, Ohio, Clinton said, "We'll take on the insurance companies and tell them they can no longer discriminate against the sickest people who need care the most." She added, "They spend more than $50 billion a year trying to figure out how not to cover people," but "I'm going to save them a fortune and a whole lot of time because here's the new policy: No more discrimination, period. ... [N]o questions asked." In addition, Clinton promised to "go after drug companies and insurance companies that are overcharging consumers and the government" and "end their profiteering at our expense" (Allen, The Politico, 2/14). Clinton said that her economic package would take at least $55 billion annually from pharmaceutical companies, oil companies, and firms that move jobs overseas and use those funds to finance efforts to reduce health care costs, make college more affordable and create jobs (Rhee, Boston Globe, 2/15). In an interview after the speech, Clinton cited her health care proposal as an important part of her economic package because, unless health care costs decrease for U.S. companies, "we'll never have a strong manufacturing base again in America" (Hulsey/Hershey, Western Star, 2/15).
- On Wednesday, Clinton began to air two television advertisements in Wisconsin that criticize the Obama health care proposal, which would not require that all residents obtain health insurance, a requirement included in her plan. In one ad, titled "Obligation," an announcer says that Clinton "fought for universal health care, long before it was popular," provided "health insurance for six million kids and expanded access to health care for the National Guard." The ad continues, "Now, she's the only candidate for president with a plan to provide health care for every American." The second ad, titled "Debate," indicates that Obama has declined to participate in a debate at Marquette University in part because he would have to explain why Clinton has proposed the "only health care plan that covers every American." In an e-mail response to the ad, Obama campaign spokesperson Bill Burton wrote that Clinton and Obama have agreed to two other debates in the next three weeks and that the ad will not help expand health insurance to all residents or implement other proposals (Alexovich, "The Caucus," New York Times, 2/13).
- During a speech on Wednesday at the Richard M. Borchard Regional Fairgrounds in Robstown, Texas, Clinton said, "I'm the only candidate left in this race who is willing to work toward universal health care because I don't want to leave anybody out." She added, "A plan that fails to provide universal health care ... will not turn the economy around and provide the real relief that our people need" (Fikac, Houston Chronicle, 2/13).
- In an interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer last week, Clinton cited health care as the "most prominent" difference between herself and Obama. In the interview, Clinton said that she "took the political risk and staked out the ground" on a proposal that would require all U.S. residents to obtain health insurance. She added, "Senator Obama chose not to, and he has spent the past couple of weeks attacking me for being in favor of universal health care, which I find astonishing." In addition, Clinton said, "I think it's imperative that we stand for universal health care. I've been down this road." She added, "But if you don't even try, you're ceding the ground to the health insurance companies, the drug companies, the Republicans, without a fight, and I think that's a mistake" (Modie, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2/8).
- Service Employees International Union officials on Thursday told the Associated Press that the union likely will endorse Obama. An SEIU official said the union is "99%" likely to announce the endorsement of Obama on Friday. SEIU has about 1.8 million members, many of whom are health care workers (Holland, AP/Houston Chronicle, 2/15).
- In an address in Wisconsin on Wednesday, Obama announced a comprehensive economic package that includes his proposal to expand health insurance. Obama said that he would fund the proposal, which seeks to help families and individuals who cannot afford their medical bills and have concerns about job security, in large part through the repeal of tax cuts for the higher-income households and the end of the war in Iraq (Murray/Phillips, Wall Street Journal, 2/14).
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