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newspapers examine presidential health care plans

A number of newspapers have recently looked at the presidential candidates’ positions on health and economic issues, and how new figures on the number of uninsured Americans may play in the campaign. Summaries of the articles appear below.

Presidential Agenda
The Wall Street Journal on Monday published a special section titled “Shaping the New Agenda” that examined the positions of Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) on health care and three other economic issues. The section focused on the results of online debates hosted by the Journal that included representatives from the campaigns of the candidates. Summaries of some of the articles that appeared in the section appear below.

* Health care in 2000 election: The article examined comments from the major presidential candidates in the 2000 election on health care and other issues for “some perspective on the policy arguments between the McCain and Obama camps.” During debates in 2000, then-Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore cited the need to “move step by step toward universal health coverage” through a “hybrid system — partly private, partly public.” He proposed expansion of health insurance to all U.S. children within four years, expansion of coverage to lower-income parents, tax credits to help residents purchase individual coverage and tax credits to encourage small businesses to offer coverage to employees. Then-Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush said that he “absolutely opposed … a national health care plan” because he did not “want the federal government making decisions for consumers or for providers.” He proposed a health care safety net for low-income residents, tax credits to help residents purchase individual coverage and a plan to allow small businesses to join together to purchase coverage across state lines (Wall Street Journal, 8/25).

* Role of government in health care: The article examined the debate over the role that government should have in efforts to improve access to health care and reduce costs. The article featured a transcript of a recent online debate hosted by Laura Meckler of the Journal in which McCain campaign representative Jay Khosla, a former health care adviser to the Senate Budget Committee and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), and Obama campaign representative David Cutler — an Otto Eckstein professor of applied economics at Harvard University, who served with the Council of Economic Advisers and the National Economic Council during the Clinton administration — addressed the issue (Meckler, Wall Street Journal, 8/25).

Economic Policies
The New York Times Magazine on Sunday examined the “vast disagreement about just how liberal” Obama is on economic issues, which “are going to be hugely important,” as the next president will have to address the “slow unraveling of the employer-based health insurance system,” the long-term financial stability of entitlement programs and other major concerns.

According to the Times Magazine, Obama has some “market friendliness” in his economic proposals, such as his health care plan, which would not require all residents to obtain health insurance. “Like other Democrats, he was pushing for a big government program to deal with what he saw as market failures in health care and to bring down the price of insurance,” but after the “program was in place, though, he trusted a market of individuals to make its own decisions; once the government had subsidized health insurance, he thought the vast majority of the uninsured would sign up,” the Times Magazine reports (Leonhardt, New York Times Magazine, 8/24).

Census Report
The Census Bureau on Tuesday plans to release two reports, one of which will address the number of uninsured U.S. residents and likely will “find traction in the presidential race, where health care remains a large issue,” the Journal reports.

According to the Journal, the release of the report, which “will almost certainly show” an increase the estimate of the number of uninsured residents, will “give both candidates a spring board to tout their very different health care plans” and “would seem to benefit Sen. Obama over Sen. McCain” (Dougherty, Wall Street Journal, 8/25).

Editorial, Opinion Pieces
Summaries of recent opinion pieces and an editorial that address health care issues in the presidential election appear below.

* Steve Jacob, Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Obama is the latest politician who has said that the U.S. can “move some money from here to there, cut some government waste no one apparently ever noticed and then fund an unattainable promise with an outlandish price tag” to address problems with the health care system, Star-Telegram columnist Jacob writes. According to Jacob, Obama “bundles three evergreen feel-good concepts” — electronic health records, disease prevention and chronic disease management — and “totes up dubious savings to fund his ultimate goal of making health insurance affordable to everyone.” Jacob adds that Obama has promised to reduce annual health insurance premiums by $2,500 per family — an “unbelievably tall order” and an “increasingly elusive target,” as “Obama’s own Web site points out that health insurance premiums have risen six times faster than wages in the last four years.” He writes, “To be sure, there are many laudable goals in Obama’s plan,” and investment in EHRs, disease prevention and chronic disease management will “improve the nation’s health and may moderate — if not lower — long-term health care costs.” However, Jacob writes, the “near-term price tag is clearly being underestimated to make the medicine go down a little easier” (Jacob, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 8/24).

* Debra Saunders, San Francisco Chronicle: The Democratic National Committee this week will release a platform that is “all goodies” on health care and other issues, Chronicle columnist Saunders writes. For example, the platform “promises to provide every American access to ‘affordable, comprehensive health care’ and to achieve ‘long-overdue mental health and addiction treatment parity,'” Saunders writes, adding, “That’s right: The Dems will expand the number of people who receive subsidized health care, provide better benefits, and you apparently don’t have to worry about costs going up.” According to Saunders, because the “Dems are going to eliminate waste in the medical system, they ‘will save the typical family up to $2,500 per year.'” She writes, “How to pay for all these bright packages? Chances are that you won’t have to give, but only will get, get, get.” Saunders adds, “Then the platform promises a return to fiscal responsibility. Really” (Saunders, San Francisco Chronicle, 8/24).

* Washington Post: The “suggestion that Mr. Obama is all rhetorical fluff is mistaken,” as he has proposed several detailed plans on health care and other issues, a Post editorial states. Obama has taken positions on health care and other issues that “place him at almost any point on the Democratic political spectrum,” the editorial states. According to the editorial, during the Democratic presidential primary campaign, Obama “was to the right” of others on the question of whether U.S. residents should have to obtain health insurance. However, because Obama is “clearly less concerned about cutting the deficit” than former President Bill Clinton, the “era of big government would not be over in an Obama administration,” the editorial states (Washington Post, 8/25).

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