Democratic Health Care

Creeping socialization from Kerry and Edwards


Eighty-two percent of Americans rank health care among their top issues, according to a recent Gallup Poll. In an ABC/Washington Post poll last fall, 79 percent of respondents said that it was more important for the government to provide health care coverage for all Americans than it was to hold down taxes. The same poll found that 62 percent of respondents favored a universal government health insurance program financed by taxpayers. In a Pew Research Center for the People & the Press survey last summer 67 percent of respondents said that they would be in favor of "the U.S. government guaranteeing health insurance for all citizens, even if it means raising taxes."

During the Democratic Presidential primary campaign, all of the presidential hopefuls tapped into this sentiment and offered a wide array of new health care proposals. For example, Richard Gephardt promised in his stump speech "When I'm president, my first week as president, I'll go to the Congress and lay aside the Bush tax cuts and I'll use those monies to see to it that everybody is covered with health insurance in this country." Gephardt would have expanded Medicare to cover Americans 55 years of age and older and state Children Health Insurance Program to cover parents. His plan would cost $692 billion from 2005 to 2007 and he would have paid for it by repealing all of the Bush tax cuts. Dennis Kucinich, Al Sharpton, and Carol Moseley-Braun all favored universal government run health insurance plans.

Now that the Democratic Party Presidential field has been winnowed down, it's time to take a closer look at what the two leading candidates, John Edwards and John Kerry, are promising the electorate with regard to health care. John Kerry has vowed "to fight for the day when affordable health care is a right, not a privilege, for every American." John Edwards has declared, "I want to make health care a birth right for every single child born in this country, period. I want to make sure all of us vulnerable adults are covered. I want to give every one of you a credit in your paycheck to help you with your insurance premium and I want to stand up—stand up against the big HMO's, insurance companies, drug companies and bring down the cost of health care for every single person in America."

Both candidates' plans broaden government health care coverage from both ends of the age spectrum. Right now, oldsters 65 and over are covered by Medicare and in most states, uninsured children under the age of 19, whose families earn up to $36,200 a year (for a family of four) are eligible for State Children's Health Insurance Programs (SCHIP). Both Edwards and Kerry would expand health coverage by allowing Americans over age 55 to buy into Medicare. And both would expand SCHIP to cover all children, up to age 21 for Edwards. Both would offer small businesses tax credits as a way to reduce the cost of insuring their employees. Both would also help workers between jobs to keep their health coverage: Edwards proposes a 70 percent federal subsidy to extend their employer health insurance and Kerry wants to offer a 75 percent tax credit to help the temporarily unemployed paid for their health insurance. Both would require insurers, hospitals, doctors, and so forth to adopt electronic record-keeping as way to reduce administrative costs. Both offer tepid plans for reducing costs by reining in some medical malpractice suits. The latter proposal is interesting since Edwards made millions from medical malpractice lawsuits.

While their plans are similar, Kerry does offer a couple of different twists. One is that the Feds would reimburse employee health plans for 75 percent of the catastrophic costs they incur in paying for individuals' health expenses above $50,000, as long as they use those savings to reduce the costs of worker's premiums. Kerry would also allow small businesses and individuals to buy into the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program. Meanwhile Edwards would throw in subsidies aimed at keeping and attracting 100,000 nurses.

Kerry says his proposals would cover 27 million uninsured Americans at an average cost of $72 billion over the next five years. Edwards claims that his plans would cover 21 million Americans at a cost of about $53 billion per year.

Both of the remaining major Democratic candidates' plans are a continuation of the creeping socialization of medicine that Americans have been experiencing since the adoption of Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s. President Bush and the Republican Congress are also pushing in that direction by socializing drug purchases for America's senior citizens under Medicare. Today, nearly 43 percent of all health care expenditures are covered by the government. There may be a hidden tipping point in such incrementalism.

Today, ignoring income limits, some 40 percent of Americans would qualify on the basis of their ages for government health care benefits. Both Kerry's and Edwards' plans increase the percentage of the American population that would be eligible for their proposed government health benefits to just over 50 percent. Remember that polls already show that over 60 percent of Americans already favor government guaranteed universal coverage. As fewer and fewer Americans enjoy private health care, fewer and fewer will be willing to resist a complete government takeover of our health care system. Kerry and Edwards may not be proposing a government takeover of medicine, but that's the clear direction that they are leading the country. Perhaps in their second Administration.