Most Democratic presidential candidates are betting that health care will be the issue for the 2004 presidential election. Not the war on terrorism, not taxes, not even the sluggish economy. And the polls support them. For example, in a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 80 percent of Americans said it would be "very important" for the President and Congress to address health care costs and senior drug coverage.
Consequently, Rep.Richard Gephardt (D-Missouri) is boldly offering a huge, nearly universal health care plan that would subsidize employers' health care insurance purchases by doubling their 30 percent tax credit to 60 percent. Companies that currently don't offer employees health insurance would be required to pass through the tax credit by purchasing health insurance. The plan would be paid for by rescinding the Bush Administration's 2001 tax cuts.
"We ought not to be the last industrialized country in the world to guarantee health insurance to all our citizens," declares Former Vermont governor Howard Dean. He would completely socialize medicine for the very young and the very old. For people under 23 he would expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program to cover them. He would complete the nationalization of health care for seniors by adding a prescription drug benefit. He, too, would pay for this by repealing the 2001 tax cuts.
"I see a new horizon for health care for all Americans with a universal, single payer system," declares Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D- Ohio). He would pay for it by levying a 7 percent payroll and a 2 percent income tax.
"They recently announced that they'll be implementing a health care package for the children in Iraq. I want to know: Why can't there be a universal health care for the children of Buffalo?" asked Al Sharpton in a recent speech in Buffalo, NY. Again, to pay for nationalized health care, Sharpton would roll back the 2001 tax cuts. And Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) has no specific plan, though he does say, "Universal coverage is a goal we need to achieve."
Bucking this trend, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), during the Democratic presidential candidates' debate in South Carolina this past weekend, denounced the Gephardt health care plan as one of the "big-spending Democratic ideas of the past." He added, "We can't afford them."
The siren song of universal coverage appeals to a surprisingly wide spectrum of Americans. Some corporate CEOs like it because they want to offload health care cost increases they can't control on the government. Some middle class Americans like it because they are afraid of being wiped out financially should they have a critical health care emergency. And of course, progressives like it because it satisfies their egalitarian concerns—we should all have equally bad health care.
Meanwhile libertarians and conservatives are failing to articulate a credible alternative, market-based vision of health care. At a recent conference in Washington, DC, Republican pollster Frank Luntz suggested language and word choices for Republican politicians to use when talking about issues like the environment and tax cuts. However, he simply threw up his hands when asked how Republicans can address health care.
So brace yourself. The health care freedom we currently enjoy, limited as it is, is about to be assaulted again.