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Sen. Joe Lieberman

The American health care system is in serious condition: 41 million Americans, including 9 million children, are uninsured; premiums are going through the roof; quality is getting worse; and 100 million of us are living with chronic disease.

The crisis of the uninsured demands our immediate attention. But we don’t just need more health care in America. We need better health care. That’s why in the months ahead I will be putting forward a comprehensive plan to not only move us toward the goal of universal coverage, but to also reduce costs, improve quality and, most importantly, find cures.

President Bush has no answer to any of these problems. He hasn’t helped one more American get health insurance, let alone do anything meaningful to get people better care. I will change that — not with old-line, big-government programs, but with affordable, innovative solutions.

First, I’ll cover the children who don’t have health insurance today. I would then allow the parents of children who can’t afford health insurance to buy into the Medicaid program up to a certain level of income, at a rate that would be lower than they could get in the private market.

As the next big step, I would deal with the realistic fear that millions of working people have that they’re going to be laid off and suddenly be uninsured. As president, I’ll make sure the government provides a first-rate temporary health insurance program for the millions of Americans who may lose their insurance at some point in a year.

Finally, I’ll offer small businesses tax credits that are substantial enough to help them pay for health insurance for their workers. Today, too many employers just can’t afford it anymore. If we give them the right assistance, we can cover millions of working Americans.

But just as important as what I’ll do is what I won’t do. I won’t go for a budget-busting program like some in our party have proposed. With all respect to Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), if his plan was implemented, it would jeopardize the Social Security and Medicare trust funds as does the Bush tax cut.

Expanding coverage step-by-step will go a long way toward treating what ails American health care. But we’ve got to do more. I’ll invest in better prevention and screening — and expand school-based health clinics to bring health care to where the children are. That and other measures will help bring down costs, which are skyrocketing, for all Americans. I’ll fight to reduce medical errors and improve quality, issues I’ve led on in the Senate.

Finally, I’ll launch an unprecedented effort to cure the diseases that cost $750 billion every year and take three out of four lives in America — diseases like cancer, heart disease, AIDS and leukemia, to name just a few.

We have great scientists and doctors — but with the National Institutes of Health, which is focused almost completely on basic research, their discoveries aren’t finding their way into our medicine cabinets quickly enough. I’ll create a new American Center for Cures designed specifically to ensure that all that brilliance, all our resources and the tremendous momentum that we’ve generated by unlocking the human genome are used to cure our worst diseases. It’s a big and bold plan, but it’s a big and bold problem. And we need a president who will lead.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) is a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

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