McCAIN: Joins Health Care Fray With New Reform Plan
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) yesterday became the first Republican presidential candidate to delve into the health care reform debate, unveiling a plan to help the uninsured, seniors, children and veterans, the Boston Globe reports. The proposal would cost $4.3 billion in its first year, increasing to $7.6 billion by the fifth year (Kranish, 12/15). Declaring that "too many Americans go to sleep at night desperately fearing illness or injury to themselves or a family member because they are without health insurance," McCain called for an expansion of medical savings accounts, tax breaks, more insurance purchasing pools among small businesses and a more aggressive effort to enroll eligible children in CHIP programs (Mitchell, New York Times, 12/15). He also proposed giving states block grants, totaling $5.1 billion in the fifth year, to assist low-income elderly in purchasing prescription drugs, and advocated a pilot program to help cover catastrophic drug expenses for all seniors (Walsh, Washington Post, 12/15). McCain also reiterated an earlier promise to dedicate over 70% of the surplus to the preservation of Social Security and Medicare and pledged $2 billion to veterans' heath needs, calling current funding "disgraceful" (McCain release, 12/14). During a South Carolina campaign appearance, McCain also said he would support a limited right for patients to sue their HMOs. Noting that "Republicans want to protect insurance companies from lawsuits" and "Democrats want to let the trial lawyers sue anyone for anything," the senator sought a middle ground on the issue, arguing that disputes should first be considered by an independent review panel, and if "that doesn't work," the patient should be permitted to file suit. "No politician has a right to take that away," he said (Fournier, AP/Foster's Daily Democrat, 12/14). But the Los Angeles Times reports that under McCain's plan, patients would be barred from seeking punitive damages and, pain and suffering awards would be capped at $250,000. There would be no limit on economic damages, including lost wages and lost future earnings (O'Connor, 12/15). Although he provided no specific details on how he would pay for the health plan, McCain said that stopping pork barrel spending and closing tax loopholes would "more than pay" for it (AP/Baltimore Sun, 12/15).
Never missing a chance to champion his favorite issue, McCain quickly linked his health plan to campaign finance reform, noting that "the reform we need is not possible as a long as special interests control Washington" (Boston Globe, 12/15). He added, "Taking the $100,000 special interest checks out of politics is the gateway through which all other reforms, including reform of our health care system, must pass" (Washington Post, 12/15). The subject has led McCain and Democratic candidate Bill Bradley to forge an alliance, despite their "considerable political differences" on a variety of issues, including health care reform, the Baltimore Sun reports. The two candidates are slated to appear together tomorrow in New Hampshire, where, in hopes of cultivating a reformer image, they will pledge to forgo soft money benefits during the general election (Weisman, 12/15).