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Rep. Richard Gephardt

In 1972, my 2-year-old son Matt was diagnosed with what doctors said was terminal cancer. In the end, we were fortunate. My law firm had a health plan, and it was the only way we could afford new and experimental therapies. That insurance plan, talented doctors and nurses, and the grace of God saved Matt’s life. Millions of people in this country are not nearly as lucky as we were.

As long as I live, I will never forget the terror in the eyes of families without health insurance fighting cancer and not knowing how to pay for the next treatment. In the richest, most powerful country in the world, it should not be this way.

In this election, I’m going to give people a choice. If Bush’s job-killing tax cuts for the wealthy have worked for you, then vote for him. But if you want guaranteed health care that can never be taken away and an economic plan that grows the economy and creates jobs, then vote for me.

As president, the first bill I will send to Congress will be a law requiring every employer to offer their employees access to quality health care coverage.

Employers who currently don’t offer health insurance would be required to offer a quality health plan and would receive a refundable tax credit equaling 60 percent of the full cost of the premium. Those employers, who currently do offer health insurance, would receive a 60 percent refundable tax credit doubling the value of the existing tax deduction. The tax credit can only be used to pay for health insurance costs and will be paid for by repealing Bush’s failed tax cuts.

Under my plan, employers who already offer health insurance would see an immediate reduction in their overhead. The economic stimulus would result in billions of dollars in increased wages and benefits during the first three years, more money in the pockets of the average family and more jobs.

State and local governments will also receive 60 percent of the cost of providing health care for their employees. Rising health care costs have been a tremendous strain on state and local budgets, and this fiscal relief will free up more local money for school districts, police departments and other important community investments.

Finally, my plan will expand existing public programs by allowing individuals from the ages of 55 to 64 to buy into Medicare, covering the parents of children who qualify for SCHIP and Medicaid and providing a 65 percent government subsidy for COBRA coverage for the eligible unemployed.

The result of adding millions of Americans to the ranks of the insured means more preventive care, far fewer trips to the emergency room and lower health care costs for everyone.

This is a bold, innovative idea that will cover everyone in America with health insurance and jump-start the economy at the same time.

It’s morally right and economically sensible. Healthy workers are productive workers. And healthy families make for a stronger America.

Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.) is a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

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