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.
Jason Furman, the director of economic policy for the Kerry/Edwards campaign, presented Kerry's views.
1) What do you consider the biggest health-care challenge today?
The biggest health-care challenge America faces is affordability. Premiums have gone up over $3,500 under President Bush, and that's a 64% increase -- much faster than the increase over the previous four years. So helping families get more affordable health care with better quality and more access is the central goal of the Kerry health plan.
2) What are your plans to correct the problem?
John Kerry would make health care more affordable by improving the health system through information technology and better disease management. He also favors a catastrophic reinsurance plan where the government would share in the cost of the sickest and costliest patients -- the ones driving up costs for the entire system. That's designed to bring down the cost of health insurance for the typical family by 10% or up to $1,000. Finally, John Kerry supports malpractice reform. Even though malpractice is not what is driving up health costs in our system, we do need to keep frivolous cases from coming into the system in the first place.
3) Do you have any plans to help control the rising costs of prescription drugs?
President Bush signed a prescription drug bill that barred Medicare from negotiating better prices for prescription drugs. John Kerry would allow Medicare to negotiate better prices, and that would start to cut into some of the $139 billion in windfall profits the prescription drug companies made from the Medicare prescription drug bill last year. John Kerry supports allowing Americans to reimport safe prescription drugs from countries like Canada. This is something that the president has had the authority to do, but for four years he has stopped it from happening. In the second debate the president made some wishy-washy, "flip-floppy" comments on reimportation, but the basic reality is there for anyone to understand. Sen. Kerry is in favor of it, George Bush is opposed to it.
4) What are your plans to lower the cost of health insurance?
John Kerry wants to give families the option to buy into the same health insurance plan enjoyed by members of Congress. As I said before, he also intends to get premium relief for families by sharing the cost of the highest-cost health cases that are driving up costs in the system. But also, Sen. Kerry is proposing tax relief that offers a 50% tax credit for small businesses that offer health insurance and tax credits for individuals, including those aged 55 to 64 and those between jobs. The president likes to say that this plan amounts to a big-government solution to health-care problems, but in fact the Kerry plan has no mandates. It's entirely voluntary and does not create a single new government program. It builds on the strength of the current system, offering new incentives to make health insurance more affordable.
Let me add that Sen. Kerry favors limiting frivolous lawsuits in the health system. The Congressional Budget Office took a look at the president's plan and said that it would end up lowering the cost of health care by 0.5%. There is no doubt that there are frivolous lawsuits out there, and what we need to do is stop those frivolous lawsuits without stopping families who have been egregiously harmed in the health system from getting the compensation they deserve. John Kerry's plan has a "three strikes and you're out" rule so that lawyers that bring a frivolous lawsuit three times won't be allowed to bring another suit for 10 years. Qualified medical specialists will look at cases to determine if they have merit. Newsweek took a look at this plan and said that it went even further than President Bush's plan in curbing frivolous lawsuits.