Sen. Kennedy Outlines His Health Care Agenda for 108th Congress
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) yesterday said that he will push for universal health care, a Medicare prescription drug benefit and increased Medicare reimbursements for providers when Congress convenes next year, the Boston Herald reports (Heldt Powell, Boston Herald, 11/22). Speaking at the Harvard School of Public Health, Kennedy said he will introduce legislation that would require employers with five or more workers to provide health insurance coverage to workers and their dependents (Leavitt, USA Today, 11/22). Under Kennedy's plan, employers would pay 75% of the cost of coverage, and employees would pay 25% (Milligan, Boston Globe, 11/22). The government would provide subsidies to help low-income workers cover the cost of premiums. The coverage would have to be "as good as" the health plans that are available to federal workers, USA Today reports. By requiring employers to provide such coverage, 80% of the 41 million uninsured U.S. residents would be covered, according to Kennedy's office (Leavitt, USA Today, 11/22). For those who are unemployed or who work for "extremely small firms," Kennedy's plan would create a program similar to Medicare to provide coverage. Those enrolled in the program would pay copayments based on a sliding scale (Carter, AP/Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 11/22). Kennedy said, "The goal is a national health insurance program. I think we can achieve that objective by building on the employer-based system." Kennedy also said he would work to cut health care costs by encouraging insurers and providers to use "modern technology," the Globe reports. In addition, he said Congress should require better disease management practices for "high-cost" ailments such as diabetes. Kennedy also urged the government to expand Medicaid and CHIP. He criticized the Bush administration's use of waivers to allow states to alter Medicaid programs, saying, "I think (the waivers) are being used as an excuse to undercut the nation's commitment to the poorest of the poor, especially children" (Boston Herald, 11/22).
With Kennedy's speech and former Vice President Al Gore's (D) recent endorsement of a single-payer health care system, Democrats seem to be "seizing on the issue of health care" to "regain political traction" after the midterm elections, the Boston Globe reports (Boston Globe, 11/22). On a book tour in New York City last week, Gore said that he has "reluctantly come to the conclusion" that a single-payer health care system would serve as the most effective proposal to provide universal health coverage in the United States (California Healthline, 11/21). Meanwhile, several other potential Democratic presidential candidates have been addressing health care. Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D), who is expected to announce his bid for the presidency next year, has proposed expanding insurance coverage by implementing a system used in Vermont. Under the plan, Medicaid would cover everyone younger than age 23, with the federal government covering the cost of seniors enrolled in the program. Dean also supports providing tax credits to employers who offer health coverage. Potential presidential candidates Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John Edwards (D-N.C.) also plan to address health care issues. Kerry is expected to release a "major health care initiative" soon, while an Edwards spokesperson said the senator soon will make a "major speech" on health care, the Globe reports (Boston Globe, 11/22).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.