John McCain: If the Issue Is Health Care, the Answer Is... Tax Cuts!


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On Tuesday, Senator John McCain refined his health care proposal a little bit in a speech in Florida. The main thrust of his plan is still to allow a tax credit for the purchase of health insurance, including non-group insurance (insurance purchased on the individual market rather than through an employer). The credit amount would be $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families.

To pay for this, McCain would eliminate the exemption for employer-provided health insurance. This would basically make the tax code tilted towards individually purchased health care and perhaps even high-deductible health care. There would no longer be any tax incentive for employers to provide health care, so many could "cash out" the health care benefits they currently offer, meaning some employees would receive additional monetary compensation instead of health insurance.

The problem is that these employees would have to turn to the individual health insurance market, where plans offered are much more expensive and less generous.

Responding to criticisms that people with preexisting health conditions would never be offered adequate health insurance, McCain on Tuesday added a detail that he calls a "Guaranteed Access Plan" which would "reflect the best experience of the states to ensure these patients have access to health coverage." Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic explains why the programs set up by the states to do this so far utterly fail to provide affordable care to the people who have a preexisting condition. In these state plans the premiums can run in the neighborhood of $600-$850 per month, cost-sharing runs in the thousands and the preexisting condition won't even be covered for at least several months.

McCain also wants to pass legislation that would make it easier for health insurance companies to sell policies across state lines, but health care advocates have opposed similar legislation because it would make null and void the differing regulations and standards that states have enacted for health insurance companies operating within their borders. McCain also said he would expand Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). Introduced as part of the Medicare prescription drug law in 2003, HSAs are accounts to which individuals can make tax-deductible contributions and which are connected with a high-deductible health insurance plan. They offer the most benefit to those who are in the highest tax bracket and need no or little medical care, and can therefore serve as tax shelters. The Government Accountability Office just found that HSAs are typically used by people with incomes far higher than average.

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