By Susan Redden
Health care continues to be among the important issues in the presidential election this year, Joplin-area residents said Thursday.
Several residents involved in the medical field were among those who attended a gathering on health-care coverage staged with Barack Obama representatives at a campaign office in downtown Joplin.
Michael Kadish, policy director for the Obama campaign in Missouri, touted plans proposed by the Illinois senator over those of Sen. John McCain. The Joplin meeting was part of a campaign tour emphasizing health care that has made stops throughout the state.
Information from the McCain campaign says the plan advanced by the Arizona senator would make health insurance available to more currently uninsured Americans, and would make insurance more portable and health-care more accessible than the plan offered by Obama.
Kadish said health-insurance premiums have increased 76 percent in Missouri since 2000, and that 730,000 people in the state are without health-care coverage.
He said Obama’s plan would help more people get health-care coverage, while McCain is proposing a plan that would translate to less coverage. He said the McCain plan would undermine the employer-based health-care system by eliminating the payroll deduction on health-care benefits. Kadish said that would remove the incentive for employers to provide coverage and translate to a tax increase on workers.
“I can’t imagine taxing benefits. It would cause people to lose their coverage,” said Bobbie Bateman, who has worked on self-insurance health coverage for several trucking companies in the Joplin and Tulsa, Okla., areas.
According to the McCain campaign, his plan would revise the tax code to provide all families, including the self-employed and uninsured, the same tax benefit: a $5,000 refundable tax credit for families and $2,500 for individuals that previously was available only to those with employer coverage. Families could use the credit to buy insurance or to keep their current coverage.
The McCain campaign cites a study from the Tax Policy Center that suggests the plan would not increase taxes, but would result in a “net tax benefit” of more than $1,200 per year.
Under the current system, Bateman said, insurance companies negotiate down the prices they pay to hospitals, while a patient without health insurance “is charged the full price. They get hit the hardest.”
Kadish said the average family health-insurance plan cost $12,000 in 2007.
Having health insurance doesn’t always mean a patient is covered, said Davis Bronson, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon.
“The authorization for a procedure has to come from someone whose salary depends on the number of claims they deny,” he said. “Those companies are answering to their investors and Wall Street, not to a medical professional.”
Patti Rosenberg, a registered nurse who works at Freeman Health System and volunteers at the Joplin Community Clinic, said she sees in both locations the effects on people who have no health insurance or not enough coverage.
She said that as a pre- and post-operative nurse at Freeman, she sees “too many people who aren’t getting regular health screenings, and come to the hospital too late.”
The free clinic gets many patients whose chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes have worsened because they could not afford medications, she said.
Kadish said the Obama plan would ensure affordable health insurance for those who lack coverage, require insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions and preventive services, and lower drug costs by negotiating with pharmaceutical companies. He said Obama also is committed to closing the “doughnut hole” in Medicare drug coverage that forces costs back on the patient after the government pays a certain amount.
The McCain campaign says its plan would allow those who have health insurance to keep their current coverage, ensure it is portable from job to job or job to home, and ensure coverage for vulnerable Americans through a guaranteed access plan for low-income people with chronic illnesses.
On the Net
Information about both candidates’ health-care plans and other proposals is available on their Web sites at www.barackobama.com and www.johnmccain.com. A comparison of the two plans compiled by the Brookings Institution also is available on the Internet.
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