A year from the presidential election, Wesley Clark unveiled a 10-year, $695 billion health plan last week, becoming the latest Democratic presidential candidate to outline a plan to tackle the problem of the uninsured and signaling that health issues could play prominently in the presidential election.
Taking a page from many of his opponents, Clark focused on expanding coverage and developing programs to encourage preventive care. Under his proposal, 31.8 million currently uninsured Americans would be covered. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 43.6 million Americans were uninsured in 2002.
"It is absolutely appalling that in the wealthiest nation on earth, nearly 44 million Americans today have no health insurance of any kind. ... That's a disgrace," Clark said last week at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, where he announced his plan.
With members of Congress still negotiating a Medicare reform bill, the number of uninsured increasing and healthcare costs rising at levels not seen in a decade, healthcare could be a pivotal issue during next year's elections.
"The Democratic candidates have clearly put health insurance expenses on the agenda as a use of the nation's resources," said Judy Feder, dean of the Georgetown University Public Policy Institute in Washington. "I do think it's on the agenda because of the (continued) attention on the economy. ... We do have people whose jobs feel insecure."
Like proposals of other Democrats, Clark's seeks to expand coverage by building on the current system, particularly Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program.
Clark's plan would provide universal coverage for Americans under the age of 22 by mandating that their parents purchase insurance. Families with incomes of up to five times the federal poverty level would be eligible for tax credits to help pay for the coverage.
The federal government would pay state-sponsored programs to extend coverage to adults whose incomes fall below 150% of the poverty level and would provide a tax credit for those below 275% of the poverty level, providing coverage to 11 million uninsured adults.
Those without employer-sponsored insurance could purchase coverage through the program available to Congress. Subsidies would be provided to help those between jobs purchase coverage made available by the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act.