- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2008

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Republican Sen. John McCain wants to change how people get their health insurance, shifting away from job-based coverage to an open market where people can choose from competing policies.

Mr. McCain — his party’s presumptive presidential nominee — said yesterday he would offer families a $5,000 tax credit to help buy insurance policies. Everyone would get the credit, whether he or she keeps a policy through an employer or shops for a new one.

“You simply choose the insurance provider that suits you best,” the Arizona senator said in a speech yesterday at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa.

“The health plan you chose would be as good as any that an employer could choose for you. It would be yours and your family’s health care plan, and yours to keep,” he said.

Advisers called the speech a major policy address, though Mr. McCain has discussed the same ideas for several months.

Still missing: The total cost of the plan and an estimate of how many people it would help. There are more than 40 million people in the United States who don’t have health insurance. An adviser said that specifics will come later.

Also yesterday, the McCain campaign began airing a health care commercial in Iowa, where the senator plans to hold a town-hall-style meeting tomorrow in Des Moines. In it, Mr. McCain makes the case for his market-oriented plan.

Under Mr. McCain’s plan, anyone could get the credit, and those who like their company health care plans could choose to stay in them. The credit would be available as a rebate to people at lower income levels who have no tax liability, McCain adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin said.

To pay for the tax credit, Mr. McCain would eliminate the tax exemption for people whose employers pay a portion of their coverage, raising an estimated $3.6 trillion in revenues, Mr. Holtz-Eakin said. Companies that provide coverage to workers still would get tax breaks. Mr. McCain also would cut costs by limiting health care lawsuits.

The goal is to move the health care industry away from job-based coverage toward competition among health insurance companies on the open market.

Critics of Mr. McCain’s approach say it could leave sicker or older people without coverage as younger, healthier workers leave employer-based plans for cheaper ones. Mr. McCain’s campaign says there would be a safety net to protect high-risk people.

Democratic rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said that under Mr. McCain’s plan, millions of Americans would lose their health care coverage through their jobs.

“The McCain plan eliminates the policies that hold the employer-based health insurance system together, so while people might have a ‘choice’ of getting such coverage, employers would have no incentive to provide it. This means 158 million Americans with job-based coverage today could be at risk of losing the insurance they have come to depend upon,” the New York senator said.

A spokesman for Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat and presidential rival, said Mr. McCain was “recycling the same failed policies that didn’t work when George Bush first proposed them and won’t work now.”

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