If we really want to help America’s workers and businesses, we need to fix the health care crisis. Rising health care costs are forcing employers to raise premiums and cut benefits. A sagging economy means that more people are losing their jobs — and usually their health care too. When workers do bargain for higher wages and new contracts, their gains don’t show up in their paychecks, they go to pay for soaring premiums. And states, burdened by massive deficits, are cutting back on health care, just at the time when more people need help.
I have put forward a health care plan that not only helps the nearly 40 million Americans without health insurance but also contains the rising costs that are making it harder for insured Americans to buy health care. I want to make it affordable for every American to buy the same health care plan that the president, vice president and Members of Congress give themselves.
Today, companies that do the right thing by providing good health insurance for their workers face mounting prices and pressures. If all of the increases in costs were going to better care that would be one thing, but that is not the case. There is too much waste and inefficiency in our health care system and too much special interest money.
My plan will cut spiraling health care premiums by up to $1,000 a year by covering a portion of catastrophic claims for companies that provide affordable coverage for all their workers, guarantee they’ll pass back the savings to their employees, and put in place preventive care and health promotion programs that can keep more people healthier longer and reduce costs.
We also need to cut the greed in the health care system. For example, most Americans get their prescription drugs through wholesale drug buyers that get billions in financial incentives because of their market clout. My plan says if these companies want to do business with the government, they need to disclose the financial incentives they receive. My plan also cuts in half the $350 billion a year that goes to administrative costs to bring health care into the 21st century.
My plan also provides health care coverage to 96 percent coverage and it covers all kids. Kids with health insurance are more likely to get treated for ear infections or asthma and learn better in school, and we have a moral obligation to make sure they grow healthy and strong. My plan makes a new deal with the states: The federal government will pay the entire cost for children on Medicaid and assure that all eligible children are automatically signed up, if states will pay their share to expand their children’s health programs to higher income families and expand coverage to parents and single adults. This would not only provide coverage to millions of Americans but also would help states get some much-needed financial relief.
We should also allow Americans to access to the same plan Members of Congress get today. Most Americans have too few choices for health care or unaffordable premiums. This plan will allow people to choose their own doctor and the plan that works best for them. And it provides tax credits to small businesses and others who have trouble buying coverage.
Rising health care costs are undermining our economy and hurting millions of families. We can cut waste and greed in health care and provide market-based solutions to extend health care coverage and provide relief to employees and employers across America. And, most importantly, we can finally fulfill the promise of America: Health care should not be a privilege out of reach for working Americans, it should be a right we make affordable and accessible for all.
Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) is a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.