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Monday, August 02, 2004  

The Kerry Capsules: Health Care

The media have bought the RNC line that Kerry has no "big idea." This is perhaps one of the signature achievements of the right-wing PR campaign (read more about it here)--because in any other year, Kerry's aggressive plan would be getting very close scrutiny--and be called way, way too big.

Kerry's Plan
The language on the Kerry website isn't nearly as clear as Paul Krugman's short description, which I'll quote here verbatim:

John Kerry has proposed an ambitious health care plan that would extend coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans, while reducing premiums for the insured. To pay for that plan, Mr. Kerry wants to rescind recent tax cuts for the roughly 3 percent of the population with incomes above $200,000.

First, the Kerry plan raises the maximum incomes under which both children and parents are eligible to receive benefits from Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program. This would extend coverage to many working-class families, who often fall into a painful gap: they earn too much money to qualify for government help, but not enough to pay for health insurance. As a result, the Kerry plan would probably end a national scandal, the large number of uninsured American children.

Second, the Kerry plan would provide "reinsurance" for private health plans, picking up 75 percent of the medical bills exceeding $50,000 a year. Although catastrophic medical expenses strike only a tiny fraction of Americans each year, they account for a sizeable fraction of health care costs.

In addition, Kerry would introduce a plan for Americans to buy into the federal insurance plan. He would add tax breaks and incentives to small businesses to help them afford health care for their employees. Finally, he would eliminate regulatory loopholes for pharmaceutical companies that would bring drug prices down.

It's a sweeping proposal, but one that looks a lot like a final Senate bill--a series of provisions strung together without an obvious narrative through-line. This makes it easy for the righties to cherry-pick the provisions they don't like for attack. Or, as has so far happened, ignore it altogether, knowing that the media have the same aversion to complexity Bush has. Nevertheless, it appears to be good and achievable policy--exactly because it's not a sweeping proposal like Bill Clinton's was. Some provisions will get cut, but he might get the larger ones through.

It's impossible to know how the numbers line up. Figures range from pricetags of $600 billion to $1 trillion. Kerry has a number of new program proposals, some of which are fairly spendy. So far, he claims he'll pay for all of them by rolling back just the tax cuts for the top 2%--along with program-specific regulatory changes that will shift the burden to corporations. All we have to go by is the plausibility of his arguments. Expand the military and introduce this health plan, all without raising taxes? A tall order.

John Kerry, official website
Paul Krugman, "Health Versus Wealth" (July 9, '04 NYT)
Time, Candidates on the Issues

Other Capsules:
Foreign Policy

posted by Jeff | 10:16 AM |
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