Obama Calls for Timetable for Universal Coverage
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), a 2008 presidential candidate, on Thursday said all U.S. residents should have health care coverage within the next six years, the AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports. According to the AP/Post-Intelligencer, Obama was "previewing what is shaping up to be a theme of the 2008 Democratic primary."
Rival Democratic presidential candidates former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) also support universal health care.
At a Families USA conference, Obama said, "I am absolutely determined by the end of the first term of the next president, we should have universal health care in this country" (Pickler, AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 1/25). He said the U.S. must consider whether "the employer-based system of health care itself is still the best for providing insurance to all Americans" at a time "when businesses are facing increased competition and workers rarely stay with one company throughout their entire lives."
He added, "I think there are a variety of ways" to achieve universal coverage, "but I think that one of the things that we're going to have to look at is portability. I don't think we immediately replace the employer-based system, but I think that setting up pools that provide a capacity for more and more people to not be dependent on an employer for their health care is important."
Obama did not introduce a universal health plan, but said after his speech that he would be working to develop one "over the next several months." Obama said broad bipartisan interest in the issue has "effectively ended the debate over whether or not we should have universal health care in this country."
According to CQ HealthBeat, Obama's speech appeared to give him "a rhetorical jump on [Rodham] Clinton on the health care issue" by saying universal health care should become law no later than 2012. Rodham Clinton has not given a timetable for her own plan (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 1/25).
Kucinich, who is trying "to distance himself from fellow Democratic presidential candidates on the issue" of universal health care, was one of 42 co-sponsors of universal health coverage legislation reintroduced on Wednesday by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the AP/Akron Beacon Journal reports. Kucinich said the legislation would be the "only bill in Congress that would assure universal health care coverage (and) control cost."
Conyers and Kucinich said the latest version of the bill has been revised to specify that the payroll tax used to fund the plan would be progressive, with higher-income residents paying more. He said the plan "would provide coverage for all medically necessary procedures including dental care, mental health care, long-term care and prescription drug coverage" (Sheeran, AP/Akron Beacon Journal, 1/24).
Leading Democratic presidential candidates "are showing a passion for ambitious plans" to provide universal health care, an effort that hasn't been seen "since the Clinton administration's health plan turned into a political debacle in 1994," the Chicago Tribune reports. The Republican takeover of Congress that year was credited in part to former President Bill Clinton's failed plan, according to the Tribune.
"Since then, Democrats have concentrated on more modest, incremental efforts to expand health coverage, such as subsidized insurance for low-income children and prescription drug coverage for the elderly," the Tribune reports. This year, health care likely will be a major campaign issue.
An unidentified adviser to one of the Democratic candidates said, "We expect that it's going to play a bigger role than it ever did."
However, economist Henry Aaron of the Brookings Institution said adopting a universal plan would be "technically enormously difficult" and the "costs would be staggering." He added that such a plan would require the passage of several pieces of legislation that could take years.
Aaron said, "I am not sure that even a new president and a new Congress can work through those devilish details" in the next presidential term. However, he said that if supporters of such a plan avoid the mistakes of the Clinton administration, "they've go a shot" (Dorning, Chicago Tribune, 1/26).