Candidates Introduce Rival Plans for the Nation's Medical System, as Harvard Professors Say Cost, Access Problems Continue to Worsen
This year, rising costs and widespread complaints about inadequate coverage have finally made health care a top presidential campaign issue.
For 40 years, the U.S. has been the only industrialized nation without a national health care plan. Roughly 15 percent of the population has plan no medical insurance, and that number is expected to increase, as medical costs continue to take up a larger and larger proportion of disposable income.
Faculty members and officials at Harvard Medical School and the School of Public Health declined this week to state personal opinions on the candidates' health care proposals. But several said they believe that health care reform will be one of the most pressing issues faced by the next administration.
"We have the highest health care costs and the least number of insured citizens of any industrialized country," said Dr. Robert J. Blendon, professor of Health policy and management at the Harvard School of Public Health. "In other industrialized nations there is no such thing as an uninsured' citizen."
Medical School Dean Daniel C. Tosteson '44 said that the high costs of health care are of increasing concern to the organizations that pay for most Americans' insurance, namely employers.
"Faced with health care bills that are increasing greater than inflation, [employers] are determined to contain these costs," Tosteson said.
Though he said he believes it is crucial that everyone have the necessary access to health care, Tosteson noted that unwillingness to support health care for members of the lower income tax bracket is what destroyed earlier plans for national health care.
"[Equal access to health care] was the intent of the Medicare and Medicaid programs when they began in the 60s" Tosteson said. "Taxpayers of the nation balked at contributing taxes to support programs to provide care."
The four major candidates currently running for president agree that the U.S. health care system needs to change. But they are far from unanimous in their ideas about what kind of changes should be pursued.
BUSH: TAX CREDITS
Last February, President Bush forwarded a health care plan intended to aid the 36 million Americans who are uninsured. The plan, now incorporated into his campaign platform, centers on providing tax credits to offset health care costs.
Under the Bush plan, families below the poverty line could receive either a voucher or a credit subtracted from their tax bill. Families with a total yearly income of less than $70,000 would be able to deduct up to $3750 of taxable income for health care or unreimbursed medical bills.
Of the candidates, conservative columnist Patrick J. Buchanan has the least detailed plan. Buchanan's plan is similar to Bush's in that he supports the establishment of incentives for employers and individuals who purchase insurance.