Candidates turn the fight to health care

October 17, 2008 6:53:55 PM PDT
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that a top aide to Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain said McCain plans to pay for his health care plan by making major reductions to Medicare and Medicaid.

Friday, Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama jumped on that report.

"This should come as no surprise, it's entirely consistent with Senator McCain's record during his 26 years in Congress, where time and again he's opposed Medicare," Obama said at a campaign rally.

Obama also cites the article in his latest television ad.

"Now the Wall Street Journal reports John McCain would pay for the rest of his health care plan with major reductions to Medicare and Medicaid; $882 billion from Medicaid alone," the ad says.

According to Obama, those cuts will mean seniors will suffer.

But the cuts in Medicare and Medicaid will come not in reduction of benefits, but from eliminating wasteful spending, McCain's campaign said.

"I'll bring down the skyrocketing cost of health care with competition and choice to lower your premiums and make it more available to Americans," McCain said at a rally.

The independent, non-partisan Tax Policy Center estimates McCain's health care plan would cost $1.3 trillion over 10 years. Obama's plan would cost $1.6 trillion.

"Well first of all, neither campaign has been completely forthright on exactly what the cost of their plans will be and how they'll pay for those costs at the end of the day," University of California, Berkeley health economics professor Will Dow said.

Both campaigns have also said they will pay for their health care programs through increased efficiency; McCain would cut subsidies for what he has called "gold plated" health care plans, Obama's savings would come from spreading health care coverage, and eliminating waste and duplication by computerizing health care records.

The best plan depends on a person's health care objectives, Dow said.

"It's widely agreed upon by experts, the Obama plan will expand coverage by a greater degree and much faster than the plan that McCain is proposing, what the McCain camp has had as its primary objective is not immediate expansion of health insurance coverage, it's to reduce the long term growth rate of health care expenditures in the United States," he said.

But those distinctions can be lost on voters. What is clearer is the politics behind Obama's new emphasis on McCain's health care plan. The four states with the largest proportion of seniors as a percentage of the population: Florida, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, are all important battleground states.

The Obama campaign is airing ads in all of those states, including West Virginia, generally considered Republican territory, which has been hard hit by the economic turndown.


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