Republican presidential candidate John McCain called Tuesday for greater competition for health care coverage for Americans, saying more choices for insurance will drive down costs and improve the system.
On a campaign swing to highlight his health care proposals, the Arizona senator said he wanted to put individuals in charge of their health care, foster competition in insurance markets and reduce the prevalence of employer-based plans.
“Americans need new choices beyond those offered in employment-based coverage. Americans want a system built so that wherever you go and wherever you work, your health plan goes with you,” McCain said at a Tampa cancer research hospital.
At the heart of McCain’s plan is a tax credit of $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families that could be used to leave an employer-based plan and purchase cheaper, more suitable insurance on the open market — creating competition that would lower the price.
“Insurance companies could no longer take your business for granted, offering narrow plans with escalating costs. It would help change the whole dynamic of the current system, putting individuals and families back in charge,” he said.
Concern about health care costs and coverage has risen near the top of the campaign agenda and is certain to become a flashpoint in November’s presidential election between McCain and the Democratic nominee.
McCain attacked plans by his Democratic rivals, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, to set a goal of universal health care for 47 million Americans as a “big-government” solution that would reduce individual choice.
But McCain’s rivals and other critics said he was borrowing failed ideas from President Bush that would not make insurance cheaper or more available and might prevent people with pre-existing conditions from getting coverage.
“John McCain is recycling the same failed policies that didn’t work when George Bush first proposed them and won’t work now,” Obama said in a statement.
Clinton called McCain’s approach “radical” and suggested it could force millions to lose their employer-based insurance.
“The McCain plan eliminates the policies that hold the employer-based health insurance system together, so while people might have a ‘choice’ of getting such coverage, employers would have no incentive to provide it,” she said in a statement.
McCain said he would not force anyone to leave an employer-based program and would seek solutions for those with pre-existing medical conditions, including creating gap coverage and working with states that create insurance pools for high-risk individuals.
“Those without prior group coverage and those with pre-existing conditions do have the most difficulty on the individual market, and we need to make sure they get the high-quality coverage they need,” McCain said.
McCain unveiled many of the ideas when he outlined his health care plan last year but is spending the week on a campaign swing to highlight key proposals.
McCain adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin, in a briefing with reporters, could not say how long it would take to establish the new insurance market or give a cost estimate.
“I don’t think anybody expects this overnight,” he said.
McCain’s health care tour will take him from Florida to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa and Colorado, all states expected to be battlegrounds in the November election.
McCain’s campaign launched a television ad in Iowa ahead of his appearance there Thursday. “I can characterize my approach on health care by choice and competition, affordability and availability,” McCain says in the ad.
In Tampa, McCain called for more wellness and preventative medicine programs, including more early testing and screening for chronic conditions. He also pushed medical liability reform that would make it tougher to sue doctors in some cases.
“Those reforms should eliminate lawsuits directed at doctors who follow clinical guidelines and adhere to patient safety protocols,” he said.
(Editing by Eric Beech)
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