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McCain Unveils Health Care Plan


Presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain looks under a microscope during a tour of the Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla., April 29, 2008. (Associated Press)

By Michael D. Shear
TAMPA, Fla. -- Sen. John McCain rejected calls for universal health coverage and reaffirmed his faith in the economic principles that have guided President Bush for eight years, declaring Tuesday that government's role in health care should be limited to kick-starting a competitive marketplace so people can buy their own insurance.

McCain dismissed his Democratic rivals' proposals for universal health care as riddled with "inefficiency, irrationality, and uncontrolled costs." He said the 47 million uninsured Americans will only get covered when they are freed from the shackles of the current, employer-dominated medical insurance system.

To that end, the presumptive Republican nominee would lure workers away from their company health plans with a $5,000 family tax credit and a promise that, left to their own devices, they will be able to find cheaper insurance that is more closely tailored to their health care needs.

"Insurance companies could no longer take your business for granted, offering narrow plans with escalating costs," McCain said in a speech at a cancer research center in Florida. "It would help change the whole dynamic of the current system, putting individuals and families back in charge, and forcing companies to respond with better service at lower cost."

McCain's unabashed belief in the power of the free market to solve the health care crisis sets up a dramatic choice for voters this fall. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have vowed government action to enroll millions of Americans in health plans.

But it also leaves McCain open to the criticism that he is not doing enough for the poor and sick, who could face steep premiums and limited choices as they search for an insurance company willing to cover them. Critics of McCain's plan said it will do little to help people already struggling with health care costs in a difficult economy.

Unlike his Democratic opponents, McCain would not mandate coverage for people with pre-existing conditions who have not already been covered by a company insurance plan. Critics said that would leave millions of people uncovered.

"Our next President has to get healthcare costs under control. But like President Bush, John McCain won't stop rising healthcare costs," asserts the Service Workers International Union in a new television ad running throughout the swing state of Ohio. "When it comes to making healthcare affordable? We'll still be feeling the pain."

McCain on Tuesday sought to answer those charges by saying he would create a Guaranteed Access Plan -- or GAP program -- to help provide coverage of last resort for the sick and other "high-risk" people until the marketplace has matured enough to take care of them.

But he gave few details of how such a program would work, who would run it, or how it would be financed. He said it might be operated by a non-profit organization with funds from the federal and state governments. And he said he would work with governors to solicit ideas from their experience with similar state-run programs.

But he vowed not to "create another entitlement program that Washington will let get out of control. Nor will I saddle states with another unfunded mandate."

He also promised to lobby insurance companies for better coverage of preventive care and to provide incentives for doctors and hospitals to use cutting edge technology to reduce medical costs.

In his own television commercial, which began running today across Iowa, McCain says that "I can characterize my approach on health care by choice and competition, affordability and availability."

By Web Politics Editor  |  April 29, 2008; 12:29 PM ET
 
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