Obama attacks McCain on health care
By NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 23 minutes ago
CHICAGO – Barack Obama launched a multifaceted attack on presidential rival John McCain’s health care proposal Saturday, elevating an issue that has been on the back burner in the White House race but remains a top concern for voters.
Obama planned to criticize McCain’s plan to tax health care benefits as “radical” during an event in Newport News, Va., while his campaign echoed the message in four new television ads, four separate mailers targeted to swing state voters, radio commercials and events in every battleground state.
The McCain plan would be a dramatic change to the way Americans get health insurance. The Republican presidential nominee, who makes opposition to tax hikes a centerpiece of his campaign, has proposed to tax the health benefits that 156 million people get through the workplace as income. In exchange, McCain would give tax credits to help pay for insurance — $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families, paid directly to the insurer they choose.
“On health care, John McCain promises a tax credit,” an announcer says in one of Obama’s new ads, over images of families examining their bills. “But here’s what he won’t tell you: McCain would make you pay taxes on your health benefits, taxing your health care for the first time ever, raising costs for employers who offer health care so your coverage could be reduced or dropped completely. You won’t find one word about it on his Web site, but the McCain tax could cost you thousands or even your health care. Can you afford it?”
It’s true that McCain doesn’t mention that he would tax health benefits on the section of his Web site where he describes his plan. But the Obama ad also leaves out some important context — the tax credit McCain plans to offer would be more generous than the current tax break, at least for most families for the first several years, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center.
The Obama campaign’s mailings repeat the same message, with pictures of families receiving medical treatment and Obama consulting with doctors, and one piece centered around a doctor saying they fear patients will lose the coverage they have through their employers under McCain’s plan. The campaign found a local doctor in each swing state to be featured in the mailing delivered to voters in that state.
“So here’s John McCain’s radical plan in a nutshell,” Obama said in remarks prepared for delivery Saturday. “He taxes health care benefits for the first time in history; millions lose the health care they have; millions pay more for the health care they get; drug and insurance companies continue to profit; and middle class families watch the system they rely on begin to unravel before their eyes.”
Republican National Committee spokesman Alex Conant responded, “Barack Obama is lying about John McCain’s plan to provide more Americans with more health care choices. Obama’s plan only offers more government, while McCain’s plan offers more choices.”
Polls show Obama has taken a lead in the race recently, fueled by voters’ increasing confidence that he would be better equipped to handle the struggling economy. The campaign said they long planned to focus on economic issues in these final weeks of the campaign, but the debate over the government’s $700 billion Wall Street bailout focused voters on financial concerns more than they could have imagined.
The push on health care is an opportunity to raise the debate on a pocketbook issue that voters rank near the top of their concerns as the campaign enters its final month. According to an AP-Yahoo News poll taken last month, 78 percent of voters rate health care as at least a very important issue, which puts it behind the economy in a group of second-tier issues along with Iraq and terrorism.
The candidates have sharp differences on how to address increasing health care costs and help cover more than 47 uninsured Americans.
Obama wants the government to subsidize the cost of health coverage for millions who otherwise would have trouble affording it on their own. He also would also require all but small businesses to make a “meaningful” payment for health coverage of their workers or contribute a percentage of payroll toward the cost.
McCain wants patients to have more control over their care and how their health care dollars are spent. His tax credit could help people buy insurance through their employer or directly from insurers in the individual market, licensed in any state.
An assessment by health care economists published last month in the journal Health Affairs found McCain’s plan could lead to employers declining to offer coverage if they know workers can get it elsewhere. The authors also said Obama’s requirement for employers to contribute would lead to job losses or pay cuts.
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