Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, M.D., on Tuesday unveiled his plan to provide near-universal health coverage by expanding government programs and offering tax subsidies to individuals to buy into a plan like the Federal Employees Health Benefits program.
"I'm not running for president in spite of the fact that I'm a doctor," Dean said in his speech yesterday at Columbia University, where he announced his proposal. "In a very real sense, I'm running because of it."
Dean's plan would cost $88 billion in the first year, $126 billion less than the proposal of his opponent, Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.). Both candidates have said they would repeal Bush's tax cuts to pay for the costs. But while Gephardt says he would revoke the entire package, Dean has not indicated which parts he would touch.
The other major Democratic candidates are expected to reveal their own health proposals soon. Dean said the differences in those plans should not be the focus of the election.
"We must remember that the important distinction in this election isn't between the details of the Democratic plans," Dean said. "It's the distinction between Democrats--who view this as a moral imperative--and President Bush, who for over two years has failed to address this issue."
Dean's plan calls for enlarging the state Children's Health Insurance Program to cover all children and young adults under age 25 and up to three times poverty level. It also would require employer health plans to offer coverage to employees' dependents up to age 25.
For those at lower income levels, Dean would extend programs for children to include parents up to 185% of the poverty level. He would allow people with incomes above that level to buy into a health plan similar to the one for government employees, offering a tax credit to those who face premiums greater than 7.5% of their adjusted gross income.
Dean said his plan would enable all employers with fewer than 50 workers to join the federal plan at lower rates. To cover people who lose insurance between jobs, he said the federal government will pick up 70% of COBRA premiums but would expect employers to pay the cost of extending coverage for an additional two months.
Large businesses would be expected to pay for workers' health coverage in order to receive certain nonhealth related tax benefits, Dean said.
"If you operate a business that can afford to pay its executives large salaries and provide them with generous benefits, then you ought to be prepared to pay for health insurance for your employees," he said. "If you are not, we're not going to give you the same generous tax benefits we're giving to those businesses that are providing health insurance to their workers."
Dean did not outline a plan to provide prescription drug coverage through Medicare, but he did promise to veto any drug benefit that requires Medicare beneficiaries to give up the right to see the doctor of their choice to receive medications they need.