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Candidates’ health care plans scrutinized

Marcela Berrios | Wednesday, February 27, 2008

More than 60 students took a study break Tuesday to hear John McCain supporters say Barack Obama’s health care plan is too focused on long-term results and Obama supporters say McCain’s plan won’t significantly improve Americans’ ability to afford insurance premiums.

Two professors and two students made up the panel that discussed the presidential hopefuls’ proposals regarding health care.

Sophomore Adam Joines kicked off the discussion supporting Obama’s plan, which focuses on making health care available to the 47 million Americans – including 9 million children – that currently don’t have access to it.

Joines said about $50-100 billion of the health care budget goes to overhead costs and administrative expenses, instead of these 47 million people.

“That money is going nowhere,” he said.

But senior Karen Stockley, the student panelist representing McCain, said Obama is “wrong if he thinks we can solve problems by trimming the fat in the system.”

She said improving cost effectiveness wouldn’t result in significant cost savings. Stockley also disapproved of Obama’s proposal to raise more money for health care by forcing employers to pay a fee if they fail to provide their workers with the appropriate medical insurance.

“If this ‘play or pay’ fee is enforced, employers will simply pass the cost down to their workers,” Stockley said. “Ultimately, the workers will not be better off.”

She said estimates predict employers trying to make up for Obama’s fees could result in the layoff of as many as 224,000 workers.

Joines said this might not necessarily be true because the plan would also offer subsidies to qualifying small and medium-sized employers that legitimately may not be able to offer their workers health insurance. Obama’s proposals, he said, would place more of the burden on large corporations.

“A lot of people don’t like these additional costs but that’s when it’s important to remember those 47 million,” Joines said. “What good is having the best health care in the world if so many people don’t have access to it?”

Economic professor Bill Evans, the faculty member representing McCain, agreed with Joines and said the number of uninsured Americans – which make up 16 percent of the country’s population – is a problem that can only be fixed at its root cause, the rise in insurance premiums.

McCain, however, has said he believes he can make these costs more affordable through tax credits. Evans said that, by providing individuals with a $2,500 credit and families with a $5,000 one, McCain is hoping to create an incentive to buy health insurance.

This would also fuel the creation of a broader market for health insurance plans, which would further drive costs down for consumers.

“If people can afford to buy insurance, they will buy it,” said Evans, explaining the rationale behind the McCain plan.

But these credits are not enough to make premiums affordable, said his counterpart on the Obama side, Dr. Rudolph Navari, director of the Indiana University School of Medicine in South Bend.

“A tax credit of $2,500 will purchase very little in this market,” Navari said.

But he actually urged voters to stop thinking in terms of short-term savings and tax credits and focus instead on the bigger problems facing the health care system.

Navari told the audience the hypothetical story of two women who discover a lump in their breast. One is the mother of a Notre Dame student and as soon as she detects the lump she has a mammogram and a biopsy, allowing her physicians to diagnose cancer in its early stages, where she can treat it and fully recover. The second woman, Navari said, is one of the 47 million Americans that don’t have access to health care.

She ignores the lump for months until one day she collapses, is rushed to the hospital and the doctors tell her she has advanced breast cancer and all the chemotherapy in the world could not save her.

“How much longer are we in this country going to put up with more of these cases?” Navari asked. “Are you willing to pay more money to make health care available to people who can’t afford it?”

The student-faculty debate was hosted by the Student Senate’s University Affairs committee.