Hillary Clinton's much-awaited health care plan has finally arrived. Let the war of words begin.
Sen. Clinton (D., N.Y.) spoke Monday in Iowa, putting in place the last piece of her campaign's three-pronged platform to reform health care in America. In May, she introduced a first piece to reduce health care costs; her second piece addressed health care quality. The final component: universal health care.
It's not often one gets a second chance in life. Clinton finds herself in that position with health care reform in the 2008 presidential election. Her second effort at universal health care shows she learned from her husband President Bill Clinton's 1993 health-care reform defeat. Given that this proposal looks far more business-friendly than the 1993 debacle, it seems clear she understands her plan's impact on the market.
Under Clinton's new plan, insured individuals would be able to keep their current coverage and doctors. Both the insured and the uninsured could choose from a variety of private plans based on what's available to members of Congress.
These options already are managed by the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program (FEHBP). A public plan similar to Medicare also would be offered. All plans would have a minimum standard of care and would be priced on a sliding scale.
One reason the 1993 plan failed was the heavy burden it placed on small businesses. Groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Roundtable lobbied hard against the plan because of its potential impact on small business. Recognizing that small business has a huge economic benefit through job growth -- particularly firms of 25 employees or fewer -- Clinton's added something the other Democratic candidates' health plans lack: a focus on small business. Her plan offers tax incentives for small businesses to cover employees.
But the plan is not a handout to business. Clinton suggests shared responsibility in which drug and insurance companies -- like
United Health Group
-- and businesses, individuals and government all shoulder the burden. It is not socialized medicine, as critics charge. Ironically, former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney was one of those first critics, even though the plan seems very similar to the Massachusetts plan he passed.
What About Taxes?
When universal health care enters the discussion, so do the cries of higher taxes. Clinton says money for the plan will come from a few sources. First, she had outlined significant savings from through cost-cutting -- to the tune of $120 billion a year.
Health insurance companies spend $50 billion a year working to denying coverage to patients for reasons such as pre-existing conditions, according to Clinton. Clinton's plan guarantees coverage for all.
Next she plans to roll back some of the tax cuts passed by President Bush that favor the extremely wealthy, including one that gives preferential treatment to taxpayers earning more than $250,000 a year in the form of a taxpayer-funded subsidy. She would also not renew some of the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and allow them to return to pre-Bush levels.
The plan doesn't represent dramatic change. Health-care companies and drug companies will be part of the system that offers more choices. The plan mandates universal coverage, which everyone would have to buy. That differs from some other candidates' plans, including Sen. Barack Obama's (D., Ill.). Enforcement mechanisms for buying coverage would be left up to Congress to decide.
Effect on Drug Companies
What effect would this plan have on the health care and drug companies? Insurance companies would still compete in the marketplace. I think the effect on health insurance companies would be minimal. They'd gain some uncovered people with severe conditions, but that should be offset by also gaining many low-risk young people.
Drug companies may face a larger effect. The Clinton plan would cut costs through cheaper drugs. Like fellow candidates John Edwards and Obama, she wants generic drugs to reach the market faster. Generic-drug makers such as
would therefore probably benefit from having a Democrat in the White House.
Clinton wants to ensure an open process. Tonight she will have a
Web cast and take questions about the plan from the public. The campaign will simultaneously roll out new ads on health care in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Clinton has also said many of the minor details will be worked out by experts in congressional committees with expertise in health care issues. The public will have open access to all information.
Clinton's plan demands choice for the consumer and coverage for every American, with flexibility being guaranteed through a mixture of private market and public agencies. She's hoping Americans' proclivity for choice will convince them to choose her to lead on health care.