Bush Touts Health-Care Plan as Cost Control

President Bush, right, listens to Jim Hart in the emergency room at St. Luke's East hospital in Lee's Summit, Mo. At left is Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.).
President Bush, right, listens to Jim Hart in the emergency room at St. Luke's East hospital in Lee's Summit, Mo. At left is Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.). (Pool Photo By David Eulitt)
By Michael A. Fletcher and Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 26, 2007

LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. Jan. 25 -- With his new health-care proposals receiving a frosty reception from Democrats on Capitol Hill, President Bush ventured here Thursday to make the case that his ideas offer the best remedy for the nation's health insurance crisis.

Speaking at a roundtable before an audience made up largely of journalists, Bush promoted his plan to offer new tax incentives for people to get modestly priced health insurance through their employers or on their own.

Bush, who announced the initiative Tuesday in his State of the Union address, said it is part of a larger strategy to use private-sector forces, new technology and changes in existing government programs to hold down health-care costs and improve access to medical coverage.

"The best way to do that is through private health insurance," Bush said. "Therein lies part of the debate we have in Washington. We believe the private sector is the best delivery of health care. We know there's a role for the federal government, but it's not to dictate, it's not to be the decision-maker."

The president wants to offer tax breaks for families who buy health insurance that costs less than $15,000 a year, and impose a new tax on those with more expensive plans. For individuals, the tax break would go to those with plans costing $7,500 or less.

Bush said his proposal would help some of the 47 million uninsured buy coverage, while giving everyone a financial incentive to seek reasonably priced health plans, which he said would slow spiraling health costs in the long run. He also promised to redirect some federal health money to state efforts to help low-income people and those whose chronic health conditions make it hard to get health insurance.

"There is no question in my mind that a proper role for the federal government is to help the poor and the elderly and the diseased get health care," Bush said. "We'll do that."

After touring facilities run by the high-tech St. Luke's East medical center here, Bush spoke in a session that included small-business owners and uninsured workers who would probably benefit from his plan.

The plan would end the tax code's longtime bias in favor of employer-sponsored insurance, allowing millions of people who buy policies in the individual market to enjoy a tax deduction on their premiums for the first time. The self-employed can deduct premium costs, but many others cannot.

Essentially, Bush would use the new tax on people with high-priced health plans to subsidize the cost of insurance for those with lower-priced coverage, a progressive feature that administration officials thought would draw interest from Democrats who now run Congress.

But so far Democrats have given the idea the cold shoulder, characterizing it as a tax on the middle class that would do little for the uninsured.

"I find the plan troubling because it does nothing to help people get insurance, hurts those who already have it and provides a tax break that benefits the wealthiest Americans," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said.

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