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GUEST COLUMN: Obama offers new direction for health care

Thursday, October 30, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:30 a.m. CDT, Thursday, September 3, 2009

Our health care system isn't working for Missouri's families. Since George W. Bush took office, premiums have increased by 76 percent, outstripping the rise in wages by more than four times, according to a report in the Joplin Globe. For many Missouri families, health insurance is increasingly unaffordable, leaving them in the precarious position of having to make the impossible choice between food and health care. More and more low-income earners are simply being left behind as the number of uninsured in Missouri rises to 730,000.

This is unacceptable, and now is the time to turn the page on the last eight years.  The American people can't afford another four years of health care policies that do more to help the big drug and insurance companies than to lower costs for ordinary Americans. That's why Barack Obama is committed to providing quality, affordable health insurance to all Americans and cutting costs by up to $2,500 for the typical American family.

Obama's plan gives families the freedom of choice.  If you already have health insurance, you keep it and the only thing that will change is that your health care costs will go down.  If you are one of the 730,000 Missourians who don't have health insurance, you will be able to choose quality, affordable coverage.

Obama has a specific plan to address health insurance affordability.  He will start by requiring that insurance plans accept all applicants and do not charge different prices to the hundreds of thousands of Missourians with pre-existing medical conditions.  He will make available a new national health insurance exchange, composed of a large number of private plans where Americans can buy affordable health coverage that is similar to the plan available to members of Congress.  In addition, Americans will be given the opportunity to purchase affordable health care through a public option similar to the plan for federal employees.  The Obama-Biden plan ensures American families can afford health insurance coverage by providing tax credits for low- and moderate-income families to purchase health insurance. Obama will also offer a tax credit to small businesses so they can purchase health care for their employees.

The Obama-Biden plan lowers health care costs by up to $2,500 for a typical family per year by investing in disease prevention; by investing in a paperless health care system to reduce administrative costs; and by covering all Americans and making sure they can take their health care with them if they lose their job.  This comprehensive plan will reduce costs for businesses and their workers by picking up the tab for some of the most expensive illnesses.

Incredibly, Sen. John McCain wants to double down on the failed Bush policies that have done so little to help ordinary Americans. McCain's plan is to increase costs by making working Missourians pay income taxes on their health care benefits for the first time ever.  He tries to make up for this with a tax credit, but as the independent Web site Factcheck.org says, it "may not be substantial enough to make up for the increase in taxes."  Even McCain's top policy adviser, Doug Holtz-Eakin, finally admitted the health insurance people currently get from their employer is "way better" than the health care the McCain plan pushes people into. The winners under McCain's plan are insurance companies that will be allowed to continue to discriminate against people with pre-existing health conditions.

But it's not just that his plan won't help reduce costs — it could actually drive costs up.  McCain's plan to tax employer-based health care for the first time is a tax on working families. This risky proposal would mean the end of employer-based health care for 406,000 Missourians.  Millions of Americans will be dropped from their employer-based coverage, forced to fend for themselves on the individual market, where health insurance is more expensive and provides fewer benefits.  According to Factcheck.org, McCain's plan could "eliminate job-based insurance altogether."

After eight years of George W. Bush, American families simply can't afford four more years. Barack Obama is the candidate with the judgment, record and leadership we need to bring people together and finally address the health care crisis in America.

Susan Montee is the Missouri state auditor.


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