- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2004

With health care emerging as one of the most important issues in the 2004 election, President Bush yesterday warned that nationalizing health care for all Americans is not the solution to rising insurance costs.

The president said the best way to maintain “the best health care system in the world” is by “resisting efforts that are happening in Washington, D.C., to say the federal government should be running health care.”

“See, we don’t believe that. I don’t believe it. I believe the best health care system is that health care system generated in the private markets,” Mr. Bush said during an event with employers and employees from across the nation who are grappling with insurance issues.

Mr. Bush said competitive forces in the marketplace — primarily by giving Americans more choice — is the best method for bringing down health care costs. Another way is to give people who can’t afford health care access to facilities other than emergency rooms and hospitals.

The president said his administration is halfway to meeting a goal he laid out when he took office — creating 1,200 community health centers that operate primary care services in rural and underserved urban areas.

“And in the budget I’m submitting, we will finish the additional 600 in years 2005 and 2006. This is a smart way to make sure that people get health care. It’s more cost effective that people are able to go to these centers and not go to an emergency room, which is, by far, the most expensive way for somebody to get health care,” he said.

With the war in Iraq moving into the background — especially as Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, who has based his campaign on opposition to the war, falters — health care has moved to the top of the list of issues that voters care about.

After Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, exit polls conducted by Fox News showed health care topped voter concerns, at 28 percent. The economy and jobs came in second, at 22 percent, and Iraq trailed at 19 percent.

Among voters who were most concerned about health care, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who defeated Mr. Dean by 14 percentage points, won by 17 points.

A Los Angeles Times poll found that about four in 10 New Hampshire voters cared most about the economy; more than one-third cited health care and just one in seven cited Iraq, which also placed behind education, world affairs and balancing the federal budget.

Mr. Dean, a doctor, has the costliest health care program — $932 billion over 10 years, which would be used to increase the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan, expand Medicaid and provide tax credits to help low-income families purchase insurance.

Most of the other Democratic candidates call for huge federal infusions of cash to shore up the health care industry, but stop just shy of calling for the entire system to be put under government control.

Mr. Bush three times this week has discussed his plans for health care. And in last week’s State of the Union address, Mr. Bush called for the federal government to:

• Limit medical-malpractice awards.

• Offer refundable tax credits to help low-income Americans buy health insurance.

• Help small businesses buy coverage and negotiate for lower insurance rates.

cCreate a tax deduction for the cost of premiums for high-deductible health care coverage.

Yesterday, Mr. Bush touted his call for association health plans, which he said are prohibited by many state rules.

“Imagine the combination of health savings accounts and association health care plans together,” he said. “I mean, you’re talking about providing interesting opportunity for the small-business sector in America.”

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