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Monday 24th October 2016

US reacts to Bush health plan

29th January 2007

26062006_ChequeSigning1q.jpgMost US commentators thought President George W Bush's proposals to increase access to health insurance wouldn't gain acceptance from a Congress now controlled by Democrats. They were also doubtful about their effectiveness.

"President Bush likes to say that his health-care proposal would "level the playing field" between people who get health coverage through their job and those who buy it on their own" the Washington Post reported in an analysis piece.

"But experts said... it would tilt that field toward a kind of health insurance that Bush has long favored - a high-deductible plan paired with a special tax-exempt health savings account, or HSA," it added.

The Los Angeles Times said Bush's plan was one of the most sweeping proposals yet for financing medical care. But it said it had caused anxieties even among potential beneficiaries, who worried that the tax breaks Bush was proposing to give low-income earners wouldn't be enough to cover rising medical costs.

"The Bush proposal appears to have two goals: to encourage the uninsured to get coverage by reducing their out-of-pocket costs; and to encourage workers with insurance to switch from high-premium coverage to bare-bones plans and rely on personal savings to cover more of their healthcare costs," it said.

It quoted some experts as saying that Bush's incentives might be too weak and complicated to produce a significant reduction in the ranks of the uninsured. The plan would increase taxes for employees who have better-than-average benefits, but also for some older and sicker workers who must pay more for even moderate coverage.

The New York Times pointed to some 'notable omissions' in Bush's speech, including a failure to address the long-term financial problems in the Medicare and Social Security systems.

The paper said Bush's proposals were in large part a modest reiteration of past proposals, and were unlikely to lead to bipartisan action.

"In effect, the president is proposing a new standard deduction for health insurance - $15,000 for families and $7,500 for individuals," it said.

"That would mean lower taxes for more than 100 million Americans with employer-provided coverage worth less than the standard deduction, Mr Bush said. But it would raise taxes for about 30 million people with more expensive plans, unless they switched to less costly alternatives," it quoted White House officials as saying.

Writing in the Business section of the New York Times, Milt Freudenheim said business leaders and policymakers preferred to concentrate first on the nation's eight million uninsured children. Next would come the four million college students with no insurance but who may cost little to insure. Then would come a further 1.4 million people in households that earn more than US$75,000 (£38,300).

"Employers, much of the glue holding the nation’s piecemeal health care system together for half a century, have been reluctant to agree to a larger government role in medical coverage," the article said. But runaway costs had changed attitudes, meaning the time was now ripe for an overhaul.

An obvious place to start was increased funding and expanded eligibility in the existing federal-state funded Children's Health Insurance Programme, according to the business lobby. Major employers face healthcare costs which are beginning to exceed their incomes, the article said.

The Northern Star Online called Bush's proposal 'an encouraging step in the right direction'. "Bush's idea is to create a fund to help the uninsured buy coverage by giving them a substantial tax deduction.

"The problem with that, of course, is there is no way to make sure that money is spent on health care. Opponents of this proposal need to have faith that the American people are smart enough to make a decision that is in their best interest," it said.

The Sacramento Bee said millions would see no benefit from Bush's plan. But the paper pointed to a 'viable alternative' proposed by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, which would require employers with healthcare plans to convert their premiums into higher salaries and those without to pay into funding pools. Insurers' ability to cherry pick would be limited.

The Philadelphia Inquirer commented bluntly: "This weird plan won't go anywhere politically- even though elements of it have merit."

"The tax system can't fix the health system. Bush has this idea that fiddling with the tax code will meet most every social need. It won't, and that goes double in the very complex world of health care," the paper said.



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