- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) — Presidential hopeful Howard Dean, a physician-turned-politician looking to become the Democratic authority on health care, released an $88 billion plan yesterday that provides coverage for all Americans up to age 25 and expands coverage for uninsured adults.

Many of the Democratic presidential candidates are running on plans to broaden health care coverage, arguing that they can offer this benefit to the American people while President Bush has not.

“This is the best health care proposal I’ve seen in terms of its ability to pass, its ability to cover people and its price tag,” Mr. Dean contended.

The former Vermont governor burst onto the national scene as an outspoken opponent of the U.S.-led war against Iraq and is often described as an antiwar candidate. But he has long maintained that providing health care to the uninsured will be the hallmark of his campaign.

Mr. Dean lost ground on the issue to rival Richard A. Gephardt, who announced last month that upon taking office he would push legislation requiring all employers to insure their workers. The Missouri congressman would reimburse companies for 60 percent of their health care costs and repeal Mr. Bush’s tax cuts to pay the $200 billion-plus annual cost.

Yesterday, Mr. Dean said his plan would insure the same number of people — about 97 percent of Americans — at nearly a third of the annual cost. And Mr. Dean said that unlike Mr. Gephardt, he would not require businesses to provide health care.

“You won’t find significant mandates in my plan because that’s going to lead to another decade with 41 million Americans going without health insurance,” Mr. Dean said. “We can’t pass a mandate.”

Mr. Gephardt countered that Mr. Dean’s plan is not universal and will simply “nibble around the edges” of the country’s health care problem. “To effectively resolve this crisis we must treat the whole problem and not the symptoms,” he said in a statement.

The key for Mr. Dean is how his plan plays in early nominating states of Iowa and New Hampshire, where he hopes to finish at the top. Mr. Gephardt leads in Iowa polls, but Mr. Dean is making a strong effort to reach voters there and plans to visit all 99 counties.

Mr. Dean and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry are neck-and-neck in polls in New Hampshire, which borders both of their home states. Mr. Kerry plans to announce his health care plan Thursday.

In pitching his alternative yesterday, Mr. Dean touted his experience as an internist who volunteered at a clinic for the uninsured and his record of expanding coverage as governor.

Mr. Dean said he would provide health coverage to everyone up to age 25 by expanding existing government programs for low-income families — Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

He would expand SCHIP to cover adults who earn up to 185 percent of the poverty level and allow other uninsured adults to buy into the health care plan identical to the one available to federal employees.

Mr. Dean also would allow small businesses with less than 50 employees to buy into a health care system identical to the one for federal workers. A tax credit would cover high premium costs, a provision that the Gephardt campaign says would undermine employer-provided health care.

“This whole idea that individuals will have these tax credits available to them will encourage businesses to stop covering their employees,” said Gephardt spokesman Erik Smith. “They can do it without worrying that their employees won’t be insured.”

Mr. Dean also said he would cut tax breaks for corporations that don’t provide health insurance but did not specify which tax breaks he would go after. He said his plan would be funded by repealing part of President Bush’s tax cuts, but it was not clear how far he would cut back.

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