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McCain Offers Market-Based Health Plan

Sen. John McCain and his wife, Cindy, tour the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
Sen. John McCain and his wife, Cindy, tour the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute at the University of South Florida in Tampa. (By Mary Altaffer -- Associated Press)

But it also leaves McCain open to criticism that he is not doing enough for the poor and sick, who could face steep premiums and limited choices as they search for an insurance company willing to cover them. Critics of McCain's plan said it would do little to help people already struggling with health-care costs.

Unlike his Democratic opponents, for instance, McCain would not mandate coverage for people with preexisting conditions who have not already been covered by a company health insurance plan. Critics say that would leave millions of people without coverage.

"Our next president has to get health-care costs under control. But like President Bush, John McCain won't stop rising health-care costs," asserts the Service Employees International Union, which has endorsed Obama, in a new television ad running in the swing state of Ohio. "When it comes to making health care affordable . . . we'll still be feeling the pain."

McCain sought to answer those charges Tuesday by saying he would create what he called a guaranteed access plan, or GAP, to help provide coverage of last resort for the sick and other "high-risk" people until the marketplace has matured enough to take care of them.

He gave few details of how such a program would work, who would run it or how it would be financed. He said it might be operated by a nonprofit organization with funds from the federal and state governments. And he said he would work with governors to solicit ideas from their experiences with similar state-run programs.

McCain advisers said such a program could cost as much as $7 billion a year. But McCain vowed not to "create another entitlement program that Washington will let get out of control." He added: "Nor will I saddle states with another unfunded mandate."

In a statement, Clinton said McCain's plan has "fundamental flaws" and charged that it would abandon millions of Americans to expensive, high-risk insurance arrangements. "Older Americans or those with pre-existing conditions would be allowed to get only one type of coverage in a high risk GAP pool," Clinton said. "That kind of arrangement does more to help insurers than individuals."

Obama spokesman Hari Sevugan said, "John McCain is recycling the same failed policies that didn't work when George Bush first proposed them and won't work now."

McCain also promised to fight for health savings accounts, a centerpiece of Bush's health-care efforts, and to lobby insurance companies for better coverage of preventive care. And he said he would provide incentives for doctors and hospitals to use cutting-edge technology to reduce medical costs.

In his own television commercial, which began running Tuesday across Iowa, McCain says, "I can characterize my approach on health care by choice and competition, affordability and availability."

The discussion about health care has for months centered on the debate between Obama and Clinton. But by highlighting his plan now, McCain is refusing to cede the issue to the Democrats.

Aides said he is driven by a belief that his rivals' approach would drive up costs and make health care less accessible.

"Clinton and Obama would put the government in charge of the choices you have to make," said Carly Fiorina, a top adviser. "John McCain's plan puts the choice, the power, the decision in the hands of the individual and the family."

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