Dean unveils national health care plan

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(Host) Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean has unveiled his own plan to provide health care coverage to millions of uninsured Americans. Dean says the proposal’s $88 billion price tag will be financed by rescinding part of President Bush’s tax cut.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Dean says he’s modeling his new national health care plan after programs that he helped implement in Vermont; efforts Dean says incrementally expanded health care coverage to thousands of people.

Under Dean’s plan, all Americans under the age of 25 would receive coverage by extending Medicaid benefits to this group. It’s very similar to the way that Dean expanded Vermont’s Dr. Dynasaur program.

The second phase of Dean’s proposal would offer coverage at a minimum cost to adults who earn up to 185% of the national poverty level, or roughly $30,000. Adults who have incomes above this level would be able to purchase insurance for a premium that represents 7.5% of their gross annual income. Dean’s plan also provides subsidies to small businesses that offer coverage to their employees.

Dean outlined his plan with a group of reporters on a telephone conference call. Dean was late for the meeting so he participated by using his cell phone while standing on a street corner in New York City:

(Dean) “It’s based on the notion that we take the three existing ways that we finance health care today and we simply expand them to cover everybody. No one has to switch doctors, no one has to switch insurance companies if they don’t want to. Everyone in America is offered coverage.”

(Kinzel) Dean says large companies that don’t offer health care coverage to their employees have an unfair advantage in the marketplace. So Dean’s proposal eliminates many existing tax credits for these businesses:

(Dean) “We don’t see why, for example, senior executive pay should be deductible in a large company that doesn’t give health insurance. There will be other free tax befeneits that we look to because we want to minimize the unfair competitive advantage that accrues to companies that don’t give health insurance.”

(Kinzel) Dean becomes the second Democratic presidential candidate to announce a major health care plan. Earlier in the month, Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt unveiled a nearly $300 billion proposal to provide universal coverage to all Americans.

Dean says the Gephardt plan is too expensive and makes too many changes to the nation’s existing health care system. The Gephardt campaign issued a press release on Tuesday afternoon criticizing the Dean plan for being too limited in scope at a time when at least 40 million Americans have no health care insurance.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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