Are tax credits key?

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John McCain discussed his health care plan during a town hall meeting last week in Denver.

A $5,000 tax credit for health insurance is the cornerstone of Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s health care plan.
McCain wants to give families a $5,000 tax credit to purchase health insurance – any health insurance, in any state. Families who don’t use the entire $5,000 – $2,500 for individuals – can place the remainder in a health savings account.
“We have the best health care of anywhere in the world,” McCain said. “It’s not a coincidence that when rich people in any other countries get sick, they come here. It’s not a question of quality – it’s a question of cost and availability. We’ve seen double-digit inflation in medicine and no system can stand that.”
McCain spoke to a group of about 500 people at a town hall meeting in Denver last week. The purpose of the meeting was to tout his health care plan, which includes allowing people to purchase coverage in any state, despite different regulations and health care laws.
“I know there’s a problem with people who have been denied coverage or have a pre-existing condition,” he told the crowd. “And we’ll create a Guaranteed Access Plan – we call it GAP – to spread the risk out more and get them covered. It will have to include some federal dollars.”
He said government health plans would only make an inefficient system “more inefficient.” Instead, McCain supports “outcome based treatments” for expensive chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes or heart disease.
“If a doctor can work and get a patient healthy, then we ought to reward them for the overall results – not for every procedure,” he said.
Trial attorneys also received a share of scorn from McCain, who said he would end “defensive medicine.”
“If a doctor is following written best practices, then I don’t think he should be sued,” he said. “If they are meeting the patient’s needs, and using those guidelines, they shouldn’t be at risk.”
McCain’s plan also places an emphasis on wellness and fitness, smoking cessation and childhood obesity.
And the Arizona senator lauded high-tech advances such as robotic surgeries that he claims makes hospitals stays shorter.
In statements made shortly after McCain’s town hall meeting ended, Colorado Democrats denounced the plan, calling it “weak” and “disappointing.”
“… Some of McCain’s proposals would actually make it more difficult for families to get the health care they need and reduce the quality of care,” said Rep. Diana DeGette. “McCain’s plan would barely address reducing the number of uninsured …. Furthermore, his plan would eliminate the protections for patients through state mandates that require insurance to cover emergency room care, allow women direct access to the OB/GYN and other important services.”
Colorado’s Democrats also said the plan could lead to a loss of coverage – including those McCain says he’ll work to cover, those patients with pre-existing conditions.
“John McCain’s health care proposal is feeble at best,” DeGette said. “Sen. McCain’s plan is simply a tax break that doesn’t guarantee coverage and doesn’t ensure that health care is affordable for the working families who need it most in Colorado. We need a plan that is portable, universal and affordable.”
But Regis University Professor Steve Berkshire said McCain’s “incremental” plan makes more sense than either of the Democratic presidential candidates’.
“The tax credit is a good way to go,” he said. “It doesn’t require people to have insurance, but would allow them the credit. I think it’s enough money to cover people.”
The plan also makes insurance portable, he said, in a way that isn’t allowed today.
“One thing his plan will do – it will force regulations away from the states and create a national standard,” he said. “People will be able to take their insurance across state lines, but regulations still need to be in place.”
However, the plan doesn’t solve the country’s top health care problem: cost.
“(McCain) said he plans to cut Medicare, and that will create more cost shifting,” Berkshire said. “Doctors will still provide the service, and they’ll get reimbursed less. Then they’ll charge more for people with insurance, and premiums will go up. His plan doesn’t address that at all.”
Still, Berkshire said he believes that the approach is better than overhauling the system to create a universal plan – which is what the Democratic candidates are leaning toward.
“The Democrats don’t talk about how they’re going to fund their plans,” he said. “And that means the federal government will have to pay for them. McCain’s plan doesn’t change the way the system operates. It incrementally changes. His plan is more practical, more saleable to Congress.”
Amy.Gillentine@csbj.com