Oct. 6, 2008 -- With a month to go before the election, health care took center stage in the presidential campaign over the weekend as Barack Obama launched a major attack on John McCain's health care plan.
In a series of new ads and in a speech devoted to health care delivered Saturday in Newport News, Va., the Democratic nominee charged that McCain's plan would increase the cost of health insurance for most Americans and could cause as many as 20 million people to lose their employer-provided health insurance.
McCain senior policy advisor Doug Holtz-Eakin called the Obama campaign charges "cynical and deceitful" in a Saturday news conference.
McCain wants to eliminate tax breaks on employer-sponsored health care benefits and give health care tax credits of $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families instead.
"A $5,000 tax credit sounds good, but what Sen. McCain doesn't tell you is the average cost of a family health care plan these days is more than twice that much," Obama told the Newport News crowd. "It is $12,680. Where would that leave you? Broke."
The $12,680 figure comes from a report from the California-based health care group Kaiser Family Foundation.
Obama also charged that McCain's plan to allow insurers to sell policies across state lines would lead to fewer protections for individual policy holders and to less coverage for those with existing medical conditions and those who are considered high risk for other reasons.
"Insurance companies will rush to set up shop in the states with the fewest protections for patients," he said. "States where they don't have to cover things like mammograms and other cancer screening, vaccinations, maternity care, and mental health care."
McCain Aide: Obama's Claims Are False
Holtz-Eakin notes that Obama failed to mention McCain's plan to provide federal and state assistance to high-risk people to ensure that anyone who wants health insurance can get it at no more than 150% of a typical premium rate.
"Any denial would be immediately referred to a board which would adjudicate whether it was acceptable or not, and if it was not, that company that had denied the claim would be fined," he says. "[McCain is] going to take care of the most vulnerable population."
The McCain advisor says Obama's claim that the Republican's plan would result in a tax increase for middle-class Americans was false.
"You would have to be getting an enormous amount of health insurance, one the middle class can only dream of, in order to have a net tax liability," he says. "Some Americans are actually paying out of pocket and getting no help whatsoever. This would give them the same help, $2,500 for an individual, $5,000 for a family, that those receiving from an employer get."
Holtz-Eakin says Obama's proposed health care plan represents "a strong push for much more centralized government-run health insurance."
Obama wants to mandate health care coverage for children and he would create a new public insurance program to be called the Health Exchange for people who don't have insurance through their employer, Medicaid, or the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
"Barack Obama says that Washington is broken, but he's running his health care system through it," Holtz-Eakin says. "It doesn't make sense."