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Kerry and Bush on health care: inadequate responses to the nation’s problem

Katie Boyle | Monday, October 11, 2004

I usually write this column with the intention of supporting Sen. John Kerry. I truly believe he should be our next president. This week, however, I am writing on the topic of health care, and, to my great dismay, I’ve discovered that I am far too stubborn to either craft or put my name on an column with which I don’t entirely agree.

To be completely honest, I don’t like all aspects of Kerry’s plans for health care. I don’t particularly agree with all of President George W. Bush’s ideas either. Refusing to toe a proverbial party line on this issue is having an extraordinarily negative effect on my midterm week workload. So if anyone has extra time to work on my thesis, let me know.

I admit that my idea of integrity isn’t the only concern I have in writing this column. Additionally, fall break is approaching, and my roommates, along with many others in the senior class, are road tripping it out to New Jersey for the Navy game. I, on the other hand, am going home to that land of milk and honey – otherwise known as beer and cheese – Milwaukee, Wis.

My dad works in health care, and if I pretend for an instant that I don’t recognize inherent problems in the Kerry-Edwards platform on this issue, I may as well prepare myself for a lonely stay at College Park next week, watching obscure foreign films and reading novels. As entertaining as this idea sounds (no, I’m not joking), I’d also like to enjoy my mom’s cooking and see a few high school friends.

The topic of health care has been somewhat lost during this election cycle, taking second place to a flurry of speeches about the war in Iraq. While foreign policy is of great importance, the well-being of our nation’s citizens is just as critical. Kerry and Bush outline highly different plans to cope with the system’s rampant problems.

Health care today is in dire straits. According to USA Today on Sept. 28, over Bush’s past four years in office “average individual earnings” have risen 12.4 percent, while the costs of “private health insurance coverage” has escalated 35.9 percent. As a result, health care has become increasingly unaffordable.

Five million, two-hundred thousand Americans have also lost health insurance since the year 2000.

Surely these statistics demonstrate a failure on the part of the Bush administration. How can the president be trusted to improve health care when one considers his blemished record?

Despite this rather abysmal history, some of Bush’s health care proposals are both valid and necessary. In particular, he advocates medical liability reform, which will limit awards in medical malpractice cases. This change will not only benefit doctors, ensuring that their insurance premiums remain somewhat reasonable; it will also benefit the American public in general.

As the situation stands, prohibitively high health care liability awards threaten the American health care system. Neither Kerry nor Edwards have supported federal legislation limiting such awards. Without this limit, doctors will no longer be able to perform high-risk procedures such as caesareans. In addition, the already high costs of health care for average Americans will skyrocket, as they will also be forced to bear some of the cost of excessive awards.

While Bush may be correct on this issue, his overall plan for health care is sadly insufficient. He appears well able to take into account the needs of companies, but, in contrast to Kerry, neglects the consumer.

Showcasing this phenomenon, Kerry and Edwards’ plan for health care brings up many valid points that are not present in Bush’s proposals. Unlike Bush, they have supported Americans’ right to buy their prescription drugs from Canada, which can often save patients a significant amount of money. For example, in my home state of Wisconsin, senior citizens currently must take the ‘RX Express’ over the border in order to fill their prescriptions, thus avoiding the higher prices in the United States. Edwards has also collaborated on legislation to allow generic (and generally cheaper) drugs to come to market in a shorter time period.

Essentially the Kerry plan for health care will provide many more Americans with insurance than Bush’s outline. The American Enterprise Institute estimates that Kerry’s plan will ensure 27.3 million new people over the next ten years, costing approximately $1.5 trillion. Bush’s ideas are, on the other hand, much less expensive, insuring 6.7 million new people with about $128.6 billion in costs.

Kerry focuses on using government to make sure the poorest Americans have access to health care, while Bush believes that reducing government intervention will improve the situation. Kerry will obtain money for his ideas by repealing a portion of Bush’s tax cuts, while Bush advocates tax cuts as a means of lowering the cost of health care.

Both of these men’s proposals have some merit. Your opinion on the situation will probably depend upon your view of the importance of government intervention versus providing the greatest number of people with health care.

The significant problems discussed, however, should not be ignored.

In short, on the issue of health care Americans deserve better. Neither candidate has the record nor the proposals, which indicate he will be able to adequately mend the current problems in the system.

Katie Boyle is a senior English, political science and Spanish major. She supports John Kerry. She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.