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Kucinich Leads Presidential Hopefuls on Health Care for All

By Jonathan Springston, Senior Staff Writer, Atlanta Progressive News (March 19, 2007)

(APN) ATLANTA – Major 2008 Democratic candidates for President of the United States–including Clinton, Edwards, Kucinich, and Obama–have already begun addressing health care in their campaigns. However, US Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) is the only major declared candidate who advocates for a single-payer health care system so far in this race.

Only Kucinich and former US Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) have offered comprehensive plans, whereas Clinton and Obama haven’t offered more than vague ideas so far, Atlanta Progressive News has learned. APN focuses on Clinton, Edwards, Kucinich, and Obama in this article.

Edwards offers a complete, but complex universal health care proposal, which advocates say doesn’t do enough to cut insurance industry profits out of the equation.

In the 2004 race, by contrast, there were three candidates–Kucinich, Carol Moseley Braun, and Al Sharpton–endorsing single payer plans.

KUCINICH: SINGLE-PAYER UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE PLAN

"When people tell me that national health insurance is the right answer but is not politically feasible, I tell them that the opposite is true," Kucinich wrote in a statement on healthcare-now.org. "Passage is inevitable - it is only a matter of time."

Kucinich is also for the second year now a co-sponsor of HR 676 in Congress, a bill sponsored by US Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), to enact single-payer universal health care nationwide. The bill number is the same in the 110th Session as it was in the 109th.

The bill had 79 total cosponsors but failed to get out of Committee in the 109th Session, with new cosponsors joining on each month. Georgia’s US Reps. Sanford Bishop (D-GA) [a centrist], John Lewis (D-GA), and Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) were all co-sponsors.

Here’s how HR 676 works: The bill would expand the existing Medicare program so that every person living in the United States and U.S. territories could receive publicly financed, privately delivered health care. Each person would receive a United States National Health Insurance Card with ID number.

Services include inpatient and outpatient care, emergency care, prescription drugs, durable medical equipment, long-term care, mental health services, dentistry, eye care, chiropractic, and substance abuse treatment.

Under this act, there will be no co-pays or deductibles. Everyone has their choice of physicians, providers, hospitals, clinics, and practices.

To fund the system, the act would repeal the Bush tax cuts for the highest income earners and establish a 5 percent health tax on the top 5 percent of income earners, a 10 percent tax on the top 1 percent of income earners, and a one-third of 1 percent transaction tax.

There would also be an employer and employee payroll tax of 4.75. Federal and state funding rates for existing health programs would remain unchanged.

"If you leave the halls of Congress, go to a barbershop or a bus station, everyone has a horror story," Joel Segal, Senior Legislative Assistant to Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), said of the current health care system.

"Universal health care is inevitable," Segal added.

"A majority of people in this country are not benefitting from the current system," Rita Valenti, an Atlanta resident who has advocated for single-payer health care for two decades, said.

"People are so embarrassed when they get used by insurance companies," Margie Rece, a mental health nurse who also advocates for a single-payer health care system, told APN.

EDWARDS: DETAILED, BUT COMPLEX, UNIVERSAL, BUT PRO-INSURANCE INDUSTRY PLAN

"Edwards has so far staked out the most detailed position" on health care, the Washington Post newspaper reported. However, that assessment appears to discount Kucinich’s plan.

"His plan would require employers to provide health coverage for workers or pay a portion of their payroll into a fund that would help individuals buy private insurance through new regional health-care purchasing pools," according to The Post.

"He would also expand Medicaid and the state-federal Children's Health Insurance Program, and would provide tax credits to help make insurance more affordable for lower-income families."

Edwards, a former 2004 Vice Presidential candidate, would repeal the Bush tax cuts for people with incomes over $200,000 and push the Internal Revenue Service to collect unpaid capital gains taxes to help pay for his health proposal.

"Edwards is at least giving details," Segal said, even though it is not a single-payer plan. Segal tells APN that he has heard Edwards will go the single-payer route if that’s what the people want.

The fact that he’s taking leadership is impressive," Segal added.

CLINTON AND OBAMA: VAGUE PROMISES, LACK OF COMPLETE PLANS

Meanwhile, US Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY), the candidates who have jumped off to a quick start in the 2008 campaign, have yet to release detailed plans for reforming health care.

Obama said last month he would deliver universal health coverage by 2012 and Clinton wants universal coverage by the end of her second term, according to The Post.

A spokesperson from the Obama campaign told APN the Senator will reveal a more detailed roadmap of how he wants to tackle health care in the near future but did not reveal a specific date.

The spokesperson mentioned Obama’s plan would include, among other things, focusing on disease prevention and slowing the onset of complications from disease in order to improve the cost impact on the current health care system.

The Obama campaign did not immediately respond to a request asking how Obama feels about a single-payer health care system.

Clinton announced March 14, 2007, new initiatives to provide all children with affordable, comprehensive, quality health care, according to a press release sent from the Clinton campaign to Atlanta Progressive News.

The initiative calls on the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan (SCHIP) to identify qualified, uninsured children who are not enrolled in the program and enroll them in addition to enrolling children who may not qualify.

The Children’s Health First Act would allow “states to expand children’s health coverage to families up to 400 percent of the Federal poverty level (which is $70,000 for a family of three) through SCHIP and receive increased federal payments,” according to the release.

APN was unable to obtain information from the Clinton campaign about how the senator feels about a single-payer health system.

WILL THE REAL UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE PLEASE STAND UP?

"Universal health care is a misnomer," Valenti said. "From the far Right to whatever, people are talking about health insurance for all [but that] doesn’t mean we are all talking about the same thing."

"Alternative [plans] to single-payer do not provide universal coverage," she added.

"Keeping insurance companies in will not work," Rece said. "They are buying candidates. They are making profits. That’s what they are in it for."

In his 2007 State of the Union address, President Bush even outlined his proposal for helping the uninsured and under-insured but many analysts believe his proposal will receive little play in Congress.

"The value of your employer-paid health insurance will be subject to income taxes. Uncle Sam will see this as a part of your income, even though you didn't get a pay raise. On top of that, you'll get a big fat tax deduction, which could cover part or all of it - for now," CNN Money analyst Gerri Willis wrote January 24, 2007.

"The good news is for people who don't have health insurance coverage. They'll get a deduction for buying their own insurance," Willis wrote. Of course, deductions are not helpful to the poor who don’t owe income taxes.

Some experts argue that because of the tax breaks people would receive for purchasing their own plans, employers would feel less incentive to provide their employees with health care.

But despite its likely failure, the president’s plan "could put more pressure on Congress to pursue serious health care reform," Willis writes.

"Everybody recognizes that employer based insurance doesn’t work because so few offer it anymore, job security is tenuous, and there is much more contract and temporary labor," Valenti said.

REVISITING HR 676

US Rep. Conyers introduced the bill to the 110th Congress January 24, 2007, and it now has 61 total cosponsors, including Reps. US John Lewis and Hank Johnson of Georgia.

There are already new cosponsors who did not sign up last time. However, as noted earlier there were 79 total cosponsors at the end of the last Congressional Session.

The process by which cosponsors sign on bills again when they get reintroduced, however, is not seamless and automatic. So, even though US Rep. Sanford Bishop, for instance, cosponsored last year but not this year, could be a staff oversight.

Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Research and Policy conducted a study that found under HR 676, a family of three making $40,000 would spend around $1,900 a year on health coverage.

The average annual premium for families covered under an employee health plan in 2007 is $11,000, according to the National Coalition on Health Care.

HR 676, or "The United States National Health Insurance Act," would establish a "Medicare for All Trust Fund" to ensure a constant stream of funding and an annual appropriation to make sure funding remains at the right level.

"A PERFECT STORM BREWING"

"We’ve never had this much support for single-payer," Segal told APN. "Labor and doctors are leading the movement. 14,000 doctors support the bill."

"I have real hope HR 676 will pass," Rece said. By expanding Medicare, "we’re all paying for ourselves. This is taking on the whole system at once." Rece, also an activist in the Peace Movement, brings universal health care petitions for people to sign everywhere she goes, educating people about single-payer in the process.

"We want to take Medicare as a starting point and tweak it and improve it," Segal said.

"The only way this country can provide comprehensive, universal health care is [through] HR 676," Valenti said.

In characterizing future debates lawmakers would have about providing universal coverage, Segal said it would "probably be Medicare for all versus hybrids," or plans that are not single-payer.

"I think we should push and see what happens," Valenti said. "It’s harder to undo something once it’s done."

"I think there is a perfect storm brewing," Segal added.

About the author:

Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News. He may be reached at jonathan@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.

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