In 1972, my 2-year-old son Matt was diagnosed with what doctors said was terminal cancer. My wife, Jane, and I were told he probably wouldn't live six weeks. In the end, we were among the most fortunate in more ways than one. My law firm had a health plan, and it was the only way we could afford new and experimental therapies. That insurance plan, some talented doctors and nurses, and the grace of God saved Matt's life.
Millions of people in this country are not nearly as lucky as we were. How can we, the richest country on this earth, continue to do nothing while more than 43 million Americans live without health coverage?
As president, the first bill I would send to Congress would be a law requiring every employer to offer their employees access to quality health insurance coverage, with employer tax credits covering most of the cost. I would pay for it by repealing President Bush's tax cuts. My plan would ensure that those who don't have health insurance get covered, and that those who do have health insurance never lose their coverage.
In this election, I'm giving voters a clear choice: guaranteed healthcare for every American or the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy that have led us to 3.3 million lost jobs and millions more uninsured.
My plan would achieve the twin goals of universal healthcare coverage and significant immediate economic stimulus to our troubled economy. The plan uses proven, existing private and public structures to extend health insurance coverage to all Americans. At the same time, the resulting economic stimulus would pump more than $316 billion into the economy in the first three years.
Under my plan, all employers would offer healthcare. Employers who currently don't offer health insurance would be required to offer a quality health plan, and they would receive a refundable tax credit equaling 60% of the full cost of the premium. Employers who already offer health insurance also would get the tax credit, providing them with relief from rising healthcare costs, as long as they don't force workers to pay a higher share of the costs. Low-income workers, meanwhile, would get assistance in paying for their premiums.
My healthcare plan would do more for the economic security of the middle class than any of the Bush tax cuts. It would pump billions of dollars into the economy, create millions of new jobs and allow employers to invest in new equipment, free up investment capital and increase employee wages and benefits.
In fact, a recent independent study found that under my plan a middle-class family would receive $2,000 to $3,000 in increased wages and benefits. That is a great deal more than any working family would ever see from the Bush tax cuts.
And the result of adding millions of Americans to the ranks of the insured means more preventive care, far fewer trips to the emergency room and lower healthcare costs for everyone.
My plan also would allow individuals between the ages of 55 and 64 to buy into Medicare coverage at no cost to the federal government. We would subsidize 65% of the cost of COBRA health insurance for the unemployed. And we would expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program and Medicaid coverage of low-income children to include parents and better overall benefits.
State and local governments also would receive 60% of the cost of providing healthcare for their employees. Rising healthcare costs have been a tremendous strain on state and local budgets, and this fiscal relief will free up more local money for school districts, homeland security and other important community investments. President Bush has left communities struggling since he took office-this plan would give state and local governments the control to put money where it is needed.
I am confident of the economic benefits of my healthcare plan, but these clear benefits are not the only reason I believe so strongly in providing universal healthcare to every American. This is the centerpiece of my campaign because it's the right thing to do. To me, this is not just the core of my economic growth plan but a moral imperative.
My plan is a bold and comprehensive idea that can work. It is the right thing to do and it's economically sensible. Healthy workers are productive workers. And healthy families make for a stronger America.
When Matt was sick, I remember the nights we spent in the hospital waiting room talking to the parents of another patient-a child with severe cancer from a family who couldn't afford health insurance. Those parents didn't know what to do. All they could do was pray. As long as I live, I will never forget the terror in their eyes. In this country, it should never be this way.
Access to quality health coverage is the moral issue of our time. As president, I will work hard every day to get it done. We will not get our economy growing again until we solve the healthcare crisis in our country, and my healthcare plan is the only one that provides the right prescription for both.
Dick Gephardt, a Missouri congressman and former House minority leader, is a Democratic candidate for president.