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Health care takes center stage

For far too many months the leadership in the Republican and Democratic parties struggled to find the answers that would resolve the very contentious and emotional issue of immigration. Virtually every proposal put forth was shot down, with the principal factor being the charge that amnesty for illegal aliens would not pass muster.

Finally, the immigration bill that both parties agreed was desperately needed was set aside without resolution. The next Congress, the next president will have to find the answers needed to enact the legislation that will finally resolve one of the nation's most festering sores.

With immigration legislation now dead, the political spotlight has shifted to health care. And with that has come the new focus of aspirants of both parties for the presidency. They are all striving to come up with a health care plan that would be most appealing to the majority of voters.

The cost of health care has become a major issue for most American citizens and businesses. Although it's hard to believe, but verified by most reliable sources, the cost of health insurance premiums for family coverage has risen by 87 percent since 2000. The number of Americans without insurance has risen from 37 million to 45 million in that same period.

Given these facts, it's no wonder voters throughout the nation are deeply concerned. Unlike the immigration issue that appealed most particularly to specific sectors of the nation, health care costs affect just about every citizen in the country, rich, poor or middle class.

It's interesting to note that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose 1994 plan was faulted for going too far on health care, is now criticized by her own party as moving too slowly. She now is pledging universal health care coverage, but to date has not provided any details of her plan. She wants to bring costs down without putting more money into the system but she has not spelled out how this can be done.

Clinton's principal rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama, would provide a subsidy for any citizen who could not afford the same kind of insurance that members of Congress have. He would pay for this plan by rescinding tax cuts for those who make more than $250,000 a year.

It is generally agreed that on the Republican side the best prepared candidate on the health cost issue is former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who was the key to that state adopting a health plan. He is, however, opposed to a federal plan, favoring letting states develop their own plans. For people who can't afford insurance he'd say that government should help them buy their own policy. Romney to date has not spelled out the details of his health insurance plan.

The current Republican candidate leading in most polls for nomination by that party is Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City. While he too has not spelled out the specifics of his thoughts on the health issue, he has said that he would support a major tax deduction so that any family could buy its own health insurance. He cites a deduction of up to $15,000 for a family.

Given the paucity of details by the leading presidential contenders, it's hard to say that any one plan is better than another. And of most of the so-called dark horse candidates who might ultimately be chosen by their party, I can't suggest whom I believe might come up with the most significant health care plan.

I am, however, certain that it is an issue that will dominate the next presidential election race. No candidate will be able to finesse the issue. It's one that is too important, one that concerns all of the electorate. Unlike the immigration issue, this one must be addressed by anyone seeking the presidency.

Murray B. Light is the former editor of The Buffalo News

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