Presidential Candidate Rep. Gephardt Near-Universal Health Care Plan Receives Mixed Response
While presidential candidate Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) "deserves applause" for introducing his near-universal health care plan, the plan would be more viable "if it didn't represent some old fashioned thinking on [Gephardt's] part, and if it didn't arrive with a political sting in its tail," according to a Washington Post editorial (Washington Post, 5/9). Under his proposal, Gephardt would expand access to coverage by almost doubling 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 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. To fund the plan, Gephardt would repeal tax cuts enacted by President Bush (California Healthline, 5/5). However, "there is no way to predict whether even the sum thus saved would be enough to pay for the Gephardt plan," in part because health care costs may continue to increase, according to the Post. The editorial states, "It sounds nice ... to offer universal care instead of a tax cut, but the truth is that at the moment the country can't afford either" (Washington Post, 5/9).
Gephardt's health care plan may force him to admit that President Bush's tax cuts benefit working families as well as the rich or admit that his plan eventually would create a tax increase of more than $1,600 per year for a family of four earning $40,000 annually, columnist Robert Novak writes in the Chicago Sun-Times. Until now, Democrats have argued against Bush's tax cuts by claiming that the cuts benefit just the rich. However, Novak notes that even if Gephardt's plan only repealed tax cuts already passed by the Bush administration, it would cost a family of four earning $40,000 annually a total of $6,800 in additional taxes over six years, by raising the income tax rate on $12,000 from 10% to 15% and lowering the child tax credit to $500 from $700 in 2005 and eliminating its eventual rise to $1,000 in 2010. According to Novak, some Democratic strategists have suggested that Gephardt amend his proposal. However, Gephardt cannot change the plan "without wrecking the whole scheme," Novak writes. Novak concludes, "The candidate surging toward the Democratic presidential nomination is advocating higher taxes on ordinary Americans, and no campaign spin can alter that reality" (Novak, Chicago Sun-Times, 5/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.