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Health care proposal is seriously flawed

Think of it as the domestic policy twin of President Bush's indirect reference in his 2003 State of the Union message to yellow cake uranium.

Four years ago, Bush's infamous 16-word warning that Saddam Hussein shopped in Africa for materials for a nuclear bomb helped Bush launch the Iraq War.

Last Tuesday night, with no more hard facts and less interest in the welfare of worried citizens, Bush told Congress and the nation that he has a plan to expand health coverage to the uninsured.

A sixth of the nation has no health insurance, 46 million souls -- an increase of 3 million to 6 million under Bush.

His plan's chief virtue, for right-wingers, is ideological purity. It offers cover for Republicans who want to cut back emergency services that inner-city hospitals provide to the poor at no charge.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., said the reductions for such hospitals would be $30 billion.

These savings on services for the poor would help pay for tax breaks for fully employed people to help them buy health insurance, according to plan critics.

An interview session the day after Bush's address with Michael O. Leavitt showed how jerry-built the notion is. Leavitt is secretary of Health and Human Services and the president's top salesman on the proposal.

Leavitt's department oversees Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other social services.

Leavitt claimed the system would be "revenue neutral" -- meaning it wouldn't cost taxpayers anything. It would cost something at first, he acknowledged, but he couldn't say what. He was unable to say at what point the system would be revenue neutral.

The tax deductions would help individuals and families buy insurance.

That's fine for those who can afford it, but what about those below the poverty line, or the working poor who get by on Earned Income Tax Credits?

Leavitt seemed to brush aside the question, but when pressed he told reporters those details hadn't been worked out yet.

Asked whether the plan wouldn't be an excuse for big employers to off-load their health care plans, Leavitt said it wouldn't, but declined to explain.

Yet with all these big holes in the program, it still became the marquee domestic offering in the president's annual message.

On political purity, Leavitt was asked why the government doesn't stop fiddling around and fund health care for the uninsured masses through the best-run agency in the government -- the Social Security Administration.

"There are ideological reasons," he said. "The president feels the government should not run health care."

Makes one wonder if Bush, like Newt Gingrich, would like to turn back the clock and let Medicare "wither on the vine," along with Medicaid.

There is more than ideology involved. It's money. Keeping all the disparate plans going, and creating more complexity, lets the health care business cherry-pick the market and drive up prices in ways impossible in countries that can pressure the industry to lower prices.

U.S. per capita spending on health care is more than double what it is in Canada, Germany, Japan and Britain, a number dragging down our industrial base.

Some Democrat needs to step forward and say it's time to end this rip-off and create a government plan for universal coverage.


Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., is again talking with the Bush administration about its stalling on the Peace Bridge expansion plan. Now in the majority, Schumer can make administration officials appear at a hearing and explain their foot-dragging. He can also put a "hold" on Bush appointees to get the administration's attention.


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