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Friday, October 24, 2008

Barack Obama on Health Care

WebMD asked Sen. Obama some questions about his health care plan. Below are his answers.

[Editor's note: The answers below were either provided by the senator or sanctioned by him. These are the opinions of the Obama campaign only. Though edited for WebMD style, the answers remain untouched. WebMD does not endorse any specific political party, candidate, committee, idea or belief.]

1. What is the core principle of your health care plan?

On health care reform, the American people are too often offered two extremes — government-run health care with higher taxes or letting the insurance companies operate without rules. Joe Biden and I believe both of these extremes are wrong, and that’s why we’ve proposed a plan that provides affordable, accessible health care options for all, makes insurance companies accountable, and ensures patient choice of doctor and care without government interference.

I believe that by ensuring all Americans have access to affordable and quality care that focuses on improving health outcomes, we will be able to reduce health care costs and ensure that America remains the most productive nation in the world.

2. Your plan is estimated to cost $60-$100 billion a year. In light of recent economic upheavals in this country, the war, and more, is it realistic to think you could get funding for this plan (especially if Congress doesn’t overturn Pres. Bush’s tax cuts)?

One of the things that I have said from the start of this campaign is that we have a moral commitment as well as an economic imperative to do something about the health care crisis that so many families are facing.

My health care plan is fully paid for by helping reduce wasteful costs in our health care system, including ending wasteful subsidies in the Medicare Advantage program and allowing Medicare to negotiate for prescription drugs, and ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.

After enacting reforms to reduce federal health care spending, my plan will cost $65 billion per year, which will be fully paid for by rolling back the Bush tax cuts for Americans earning more than $250,000 per year and retaining the estate tax at its 2009 level.

I believe that it is entirely realistic that Congress will work to fully fund this plan because the economic costs of continuing to let our health care costs spiral out of control are simply too high for American families and American businesses.

3. How will you encourage people to buy health care without a mandate, especially the so-called “young invincibles?”

My plan will expand the number of easy, attractive options for young adults to get coverage. I will create new tax credits for health insurance coverage for those Americans who cannot afford health insurance on their own, which will help younger workers who often make less than the average worker.

I will allow young people up to age 25 to continue coverage through their parents’ plans, providing an easy, affordable option for young adults to retain portable health insurance as they switch jobs and attend college and graduate school.

And by allowing all Americans access to new easy-to-enroll portable health care options, I believe young workers will finally have the information and health insurance options that they lack today that will allow them to become insured.

4. What is the main distinction between your plan and Sen. McCain’s?

Joe Biden and I have proposed a comprehensive plan to reduce health care costs for American families and ensure that all Americans have access to quality, affordable, and portable health insurance.

In contrast, John McCain has blocked efforts to expand access to health insurance and reduce health care costs. Instead he has proposed the same failed Bush approach to reform health care. With his health care proposal, John McCain has advocated tearing down our employer-based health care system, which will leave insurance companies in charge with little oversight or attention to improving Americans’ health and mean higher taxes for American working families over time.

John McCain’s radical transformation of the insurance industry will throw 20 million Americans from their current health insurance plans to a deregulated individual market, provide an inadequate tax credit to pay for quality health insurance coverage, raise administrative costs up to $20 billion per year, and do almost nothing to reduce the number of uninsured Americans.

By recycling George W. Bush’s failed health care policies, John McCain is guaranteeing another four years of record cost increases and insurance industry profits while more and more Americans lose their health insurance because of skyrocketing prices.

5. How would you handle spiraling health care costs?

My plan invests in eliminating waste in our health care system, expanding coverage to all Americans to reduce the cost of uncompensated care, and picking up the cost of some high-cost cases from employers. Health care experts have projected that my strategic investments and reforms will save businesses $140 billion per year in premiums and $2,500 for the typical American family.

Specifically, my plan will:

  • Increase health IT [information technology] investment, which will reduce unnecessary and wasteful spending in the health care system;
  • Provide reinsurance for catastrophic cases, which will stabilize if not decrease insurance premiums;
  • Improve prevention and management of chronic conditions;
  • Increase insurance industry competition and reduce the abusive practices of monopoly insurance and drug companies; and
  • Ensure every American has health coverage, which will lower spending on the “uncompensated” care of uninsured people who end up in emergency rooms, where their care is needlessly expensive and paid for by Americans with health insurance through higher premiums.

6. How important is prevention to your plan?

Covering the uninsured and modernizing America’s health care system are urgent priorities, but they are not enough.

We believe that protecting and promoting health and wellness in this nation is a shared responsibility among individuals and families, school systems, employers, the medical and public health workforce, and federal and state and local governments. All parties must do their part, as well as collaborate with one another, to create the conditions and opportunities that will allow and encourage Americans to adopt healthy lifestyles.

My plan will promote public health by requiring coverage of preventive services, including cancer screenings, and increasing state and local preparedness for terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

7. How does your plan address pre-existing conditions or people with chronic health conditions?

I will require insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions so all Americans, regardless of their health status or history, can get comprehensive benefits at fair and stable premiums.

8. How big a role do you see the Internet and technology playing in health care in the future?

One of the ways my plan will improve effic
iency and lower costs in the health care system is by adopting state-of-the-art health information technology systems. Most medical records are still stored on paper, which makes them difficult to use to coordinate care, measure quality, or reduce medical errors. Processing paper claims also costs twice as much as processing electronic claims.

My plan will invest $10 billion a year over the next five years to move the U.S. health care system to a broad adoption of standards-based electronic health information systems, including electronic health records.

We will also phase in requirements for full implementation of health IT and commit the necessary federal resources to make it happen. We will ensure that these systems are developed in coordination with providers and frontline workers, including those in rural and underserved areas.

We will ensure that patients’ privacy is protected. A study by the Rand Corporation found that if most hospitals and doctors’ offices adopted electronic health records, up to $77 billion of savings would be realized each year through improvements such as reduced hospital stays, avoidance of duplicative and unnecessary testing, more appropriate drug utilization, and other efficiencies.

SOURCE: Sen. Barack Obama campaign.

WebMD does not endorse any specific political party, candidate, committee, idea, or belief.

Posted by: Sean Swint at 1:45 pm