McCain Health Plan Has Underlying Illness


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Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) has promised to revolutionize the U.S. health care industry if elected president by ending the current employer-based tax subsidy and offering the subsidy instead to individuals. His plan would cost about $1.3 trillion over 10 years, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

McCain says his plan would be revenue neutral -- so he would have to make cuts or raise taxes to pay for it. His chief policy adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, says the plan would pay for itself by cutting costs. But in reality, the health care proposal could place baby boomers and seniors in danger of no coverage or substandard coverage.

McCain's health care plan would have several unintended consequences. Those people still receiving health care from their employers would have to pay taxes on those benefits. Individuals could avoid the tax by rejecting employer-based health care and purchasing their own coverage in the open market. The tax subsidy would work out to $5,000 for a family and $2,500 for an individual.

However, it currently costs much more to buy insurance. Kaiser Health Care Foundation estimates that the cost of a health care plan runs about $12,680 for a family and $4,704 for an individual for 2007, and costs are set to rise 5% for 2008. That's a significant shortfall.

McCain argues that competition would result in lower prices. He would remove state restrictions on health care, creating a national health care market where companies compete on a much larger scale. Consolidation and competition could cut some costs. However, the savings would have to be dramatic because his plan isn't adjusted for inflation or higher future health care costs.

Health care companies could reduce some costs by refusing higher-risk clients, in particular those with pre-existing conditions. The losers would likely be baby boomers and seniors requiring care. McCain says he would help those with pre-existing conditions by giving more support to states, but his Web site and the articles that describe his plan fail to explain how much he would support health care plan -- and the cost to the federal government.

Baby boomers and seniors have been hurt by the recent economic crisis. Falling home prices, reduced dividends from fixed-income investments and sagging stock prices have many worried about their retirement. Many would count on Medicare to help them remain insured after the age of 65.

But counting on Medicare may not be an option under a McCain administration. The McCain campaign confirmed yesterday in The Wall Street Journal that it would pay for some of its plan by cutting Medicare and Medicaid. Holtz-Eakin said the cost-cutting would come from reductions in fraud and the cost of care but no mention of benefits. Remember, though, the plan has to cut enough to cover $1.3 trillion.

McCain's claims don't add up for health care. This parallels the general picture of the budget under his administration. The Tax Policy Center has estimated he would run up huge deficits by continuing the Bush tax cuts and more tax cuts. His campaign has vowed to cut costs by removing earmarks ($18 billion) and cutting the budgets of all agencies aside from the Department of Defense and Veterans. Yet, the Tax Policy Center estimates an added $4.5 trillion deficit under McCain over 10 years even accounting for those cuts.

Worse, the funding for Medicare runs out of money in 2017. This would be without any cuts to its budget, which it would face under McCain.

Both baby boomers and seniors may want to start asking more questions about McCain's health care plans. Not only would it affect their coverage, but it may also reduce funding for Medicare and Medicaid.

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