- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2007

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama yesterday offered a plan to provide health care to millions of Americans and more affordable medical insurance, financed in part by tax increases on the wealthy.

Bemoaning what he called a health care “cost crisis,” Mr. Obama said it was unacceptable that an estimated 47 million in the country are uninsured while others are struggling to pay their medical bills. He said the time is ripe for reforming the health care system despite an inability to do so in the past, most notably when Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, now a presidential-campaign rival of Mr. Obama’s, pursued major changes during her husband’s presidency.

“We can do this,” Mr. Obama said in a speech in Iowa City at the University of Iowa’s medical school. “The climate is far different than it was the last time we tried this in the early ‘90s.”

Mr. Obama’s plan retains the private insurance system, but injects additional money to pay for expanding coverage. Those who can’t afford coverage would get a subsidy on a sliding scale depending on their income, and virtually all businesses would have to share in the cost of coverage for their workers.

The Illinois senator didn’t mention that his plan would cost the federal Treasury an estimated $50 billion to $65 billion a year once fully implemented. That information was provided in a memo written by three outside analysts and distributed by the campaign after his speech.

The analysts also said Mr. Obama could pay for his plan mostly through steps that the candidate has already said he would take — allowing President Bush’s tax cuts on dividends and capital gains and on those making more than about $250,000 a year to expire in 2010, instead of acting to make them permanent.

The rest of the $65 billion funding could come by raising the inheritance taxes on estates worth more than $7 million. Many Democrats want to repeal Mr. Bush’s elimination of taxes on estates worth more than $1 million. Mr. Obama wants to raise estate taxes, but has not said exactly how.

Mr. Obama’s proposal would spend more money boosting technology in the health industry such as electronic record-keeping. His package would prohibit insurance companies from refusing coverage because of pre-existing conditions. It would also create a National Health Insurance Exchange to monitor insurance companies and limit their profits. Mr. Obama said the typical consumer would save $2,500 a year on premiums.

Mr. Obama’s first promise as a presidential candidate was that he would sign a universal health care plan into law by the end of his firm term in the White House. But there is some dispute over whether his plan would provide universal care.

Obama aides said they think that everyone would buy health insurance if it were affordable enough, achieving universal care. If some Americans are still uninsured after a few years into the plan, Mr. Obama would reconsider how to get to 100 percent, the advisers said.

That’s where he differs with Democratic rival John Edwards, the only other candidate who has laid out a specific plan. Mr. Edwards eventually would require every American to get health insurance, much like state requirements that drivers have auto insurance. Mr. Obama would only require that children be covered.

Mr. Edwards “believes that incremental measures are not enough,” Edwards spokesman Mark Kornblau said. “Any plan that does not cover all Americans is simply inadequate.”

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