Biden Focuses Only on Negatives Of McCain's Health-Coverage Plan

Friday, October 3, 2008

"You're going to have to replace a $12,000 [health-care plan] with a $5,000 [tax-credit] check you've just given to the insurance company. I call that the ultimate bridge to nowhere."

-- Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., vice presidential debate

Joe Biden gave the impression that most Americans would be worse off financially as a result of Sen. John McCain's health-care proposals. He drew on a study by the journal Health Affairs to suggest that 20 million people would lose their company-provided health insurance under the McCain plan. He failed to note that the same journal calculated that another 21 million people would be able to afford health insurance for the first time because of tax credits offered under the McCain plan.


It is true that McCain wants to encourage Americans to go out and buy their own health-care plans rather than relying on employer-based plans. To achieve this, he plans to tax employer-provided health benefits and provide a $2,500 tax credit ($5,000 for families) toward the cost of health insurance.

According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, the McCain proposals would result in a net benefit of $1,241 to the average taxpayer in 2009, $895 in 2013, and $386 in 2018. Taxpayers in the top quintile would be slightly worse off by 2018, but other taxpayers would be slightly ahead.

According to several studies, the McCain plan would lead to a modest increase in the number of people covered by health insurance in the first year but could lead to an increase in the number of uninsured over the long term. The Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution estimated that 5 million people would gain coverage under the McCain plan after four years, after which the pendulum would swing in the opposite direction. Health Affairs calculated that the number of uninsured would increase by 5 million after five years.


Biden focused exclusively on the negative aspects of the McCain health-care plan and suggested that millions of Americans would be worse off. He overlooked the likely increase in the numbers of self-insured benefiting from the McCain tax credits.

TWO PINOCCHIOS: Significant omissions or exaggerations.

-- Michael Dobbs

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