Sunday, April 08, 2007

Obama: "Health system revamp could help pay for more coverage"

Des Moines Register:
Fort Dodge, Ia. - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Thursday said he planned to propose a universal health care plan soon that includes federal subsidies for uninsured Americans, but he declined to say whether he expected the developing plan to require a tax increase.

The Illinois senator said during stops in the northern part of the leadoff caucus state that he expected to present in the next several weeks a specific agenda aimed at making sure all Americans were covered by health insurance by 2012.
Obama has said in principle he is open to raising income taxes to pay for domestic programs. But he stopped short Thursday of advocating a tax increase, arguing that money now spent on outdated medical record-keeping and expensive treatment for preventable illness could be used to expand coverage.

"We shouldn't just put more money into a system that isn't efficient," Obama said during a meeting with about 100 people in Mason City.

The event at North Iowa Area Community College was billed as an opportunity for the first-term senator to listen to health care concerns of Americans for information to help shape the planning of his campaign's health care proposals.

Money saved by converting health record keeping into an electronic rather than paper process, early detection of chronic illnesses, and child wellness programs could help finance coverage for the uninsured, he said.

"We can save huge amounts of money and put that money into providing basic health insurance or subsidies to purchase health insurance for those who don't have it," Obama told about 400 supporters and Democratic activists in Fort Dodge. "We can create universal health care in this country."

Reducing the number of Americans without health insurance, estimated to be more than 40 million, has become a defining domestic issue among the early frontrunners for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards has proposed a $120 billion plan that would be paid for in part by raising income taxes on wealthier Americans.

Edwards also has said candidates who suggest expanding health care coverage to all Americans can be done without raising taxes are being unrealistic.

"If we want to cover every man, woman and child in this country with health insurance, then we have to be forthright about the steps that we need to take to achieve truly universal health care," Edwards spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield said.

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, who has not yet unveiled a health care proposal, has said she does not agree that an income-tax increase would be necessary to expand health insurance access to all Americans.

Obama has said he is open to raising income tax rates on wealthier Americans to pay for domestic priorities, including transportation, education and health care.

Obama won't know whether he would have to seek a tax increase until he assembles the details of his plan, aides said.

"We're not there yet," Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said. "He's still in the process of creating it."

Kandee Bartholomew of Mason City, who attended Obama's event there, is one of the estimated 47 million Americans without health insurance.

"For me, there's no way I can afford any kind of insurance right now. ... If anything happens to me, there's nothing I can do," the 43-year-old nursing student told Obama.

Obama hinted during his later stops Thursday that his plan would likely include government assistance for some uninsured to enroll in insurance programs such as those offered to federal employees.

"And I think it can be done, but we've got to build a movement in this country behind that during this election cycle so that there's a mandate for that to take place, for the next president," Obama told about 800 people who attended his afternoon event at Algona High School.

Swea City Democrat Dan McGregor, among about 800 who came to hear Obama in the high school gymnasium, said he doesn't think higher taxes are necessary to help those without health insurance get it.

"I don't think you need a tax increase. We just need to spend our money more wisely," said McGregor, a farmer and Kossuth County supervisor who is undecided about whom he will support in the caucuses.

Kathy Graves of Estherville said she would support a candidate who proposes raising taxes for health care because she believes it will save money over time.

"With his ideas on savings and inefficiencies, a tax increase for the rest would be well worth it," said Graves, a college professor and uncommitted Democrat leaning toward Edwards.

Obama is scheduled to cap his three-day swing through Iowa with stops in Colo and Marshalltown.

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