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McCain’s Plan: Tax Breaks and Enhanced Portability

Policy debates are often drowned out by the din of a presidential campaign, but the topic of health care is likely to hold a prominent place in both the Republican and Democratic nominees’ rhetoric and strategies.

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the presumptive Republican nominee, has presented a plan that he says will make health care more accessible to the masses, without creating large new government programs or mandates.

In a recent speech delivered at the University of South Florida, McCain told a crowd peppered with doctors and nurses from the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute that “health care in America should be affordable by all, not just the wealthy. It should be available to all, and not limited by where you work or how much you make.”

[IMGCAP(1)] McCain’s campaign declined to answer questions about the candidate’s health care plans.

But the Senator’s speeches and campaign Web site show that the crux of McCain’s health care plan centers on helping consumers afford insurance, rather than having the government provide it. The Arizona Senator believes that nationalizing health care would “replace the inefficiency, irrationality and uncontrolled costs of the current system with the inefficiency, irrationality and uncontrolled costs of a government monopoly.”

In an effort to avoid “rigid rules, long waits and lack of choices,” he wants to amend the tax code to give Americans more choices when it comes to an insurance plan. McCain is proposing an option that will give Americans a direct refundable tax credit of $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families to spend on the plan of their choice.

The Senator believes that this money will drive up competition among private insurance companies forcing them to lower their rates and step up their service.

“Millions of Americans would be making their own health care choices again. Insurance companies could no longer take your business for granted, offering narrow plans with escalating costs,” McCain said in a recent speech.

The presidential hopeful acknowledges criticism that this proposed tax credit will encourage people to purchase insurance from the currently flawed insurance market and that those with long-term illness will be denied care. But McCain is confidant that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which prohibits insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing illnesses, will help those with chronic illness from being denied coverage. He also plans to push for more early testing to help in disease prevention.

In addition to giving people choices, McCain hopes to make insurance more portable so that Americans can carry the same coverage with them from job to job.

McCain also hopes to band researchers together to work on early detection and prevention of disease. He plans to create financial incentives to persuade Americans to take better care of themselves, thereby reducing the overall cost of insurance.

Both of McCain’s would-be Democratic foes — Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) — serve on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, adding to their health care credentials.

McCain’s most notable health care venture may be a failed tobacco bill back in 1998.

The legislation, which would have forced big tobacco to pay $516 billion over 25 years and raise the price of cigarettes, passed the Senate Commerce Committee with ease, but was blocked on the Senate floor. The Clinton administration strongly supported the legislation, which was opposed by the tobacco companies and many of McCain’s Republican colleagues.

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