Health care has taken center stage in the race between President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry. WebMD Washington correspondent Todd Zwillich talked to top staff members from each campaign to find out how the candidates would address 10 major challenges in today's health care system. The candidates were asked the same questions. The answers have been edited for style and length only, not for content.
Megan Hauck, the deputy policy director for the Bush/Cheney campaign, presented Bush's views.
1) What do you consider the biggest health-care challenge today?
It is vitally important that health care be accessible and affordable for every American. Rising health-care costs have too often taken patients out of the health-care decision-making process. Today, too many lawsuits without merit are being filed against doctors and hospitals, forcing them to practice defense medicine, driving good doctors out of practice, and increasing health-care costs for everyone.
2) What are your plans to correct the problem?
President Bush supports commonsense reforms to the medical liability system that reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits and control excessive jury awards. The president's proposal for reform would ensure that injured persons are fully compensated for their full economic losses, while reasonably limiting non-economic damages to $250,000. It would also reserve punitive damages for cases where there is egregious conduct, ensure that old cases cannot be brought years after an event, and provide that defendants pay judgments in proportion to their fault. While everyone who has a legitimate claim must have their day in court, no patient has ever been healed by frivolous lawsuits. Frivolous lawsuits and excessive jury awards are a national problem, and the crisis deserves a national solution. The Department of Health and Human Services recently determined that medical liability reforms could extend health insurance to 2.6 to 5.1 million additional Americans.
In addition to fighting for medical liability reforms, the president's health-care agenda also includes promoting health information technology that will improve health care quickly, save lives, and save money. President Bush has set up an ambitious goal that Americans will have electronic medical records within a decade because he believes that America's health-care system can benefit from an information infrastructure that provides patients and doctors with complete and accurate medical records. This technology will reduce unnecessary treatments and reduce red tape.
3) Do you have any plans to help control the rising costs of prescription drugs?
President Bush was proud to sign the Medicare Modernization Act this year, which for the first time is providing all 40 million Medicare beneficiaries with a voluntary prescription drug benefit. This drug benefit will give seniors their choice of various plans to help them afford the cost of their medicines.
Seniors are seeing immediate relief with Medicare prescription drug cards, which are cutting 16% to 30% off retail prices of most brand-name medicines and 30% to 60% off the price of generics, and providing an annual $600 subsidy to low-income seniors.
Beginning in 2006, for a low monthly premium of about $35, seniors can choose among plans to have Medicare pay 75% of the cost of all prescription drugs up to $2,250 a year and 95% of catastrophic drug costs. Our 12 million low-income seniors will see the greatest benefits, with 100% coverage of prescription drug costs with a $1 to $5 co-pay. For the first time, we are giving seniors the peace of mind that they will not have to face unlimited expenses for their medicine.