Voters see health care as top priority

Posted 4:27pm February 13

by Jane Black
U-WIRE Washington Bureau

Voters are increasingly citing health care as a top concern in the 2004 presidential election, a consistent finding in exit polls taken across the nation in the last few months.

The shortcomings of the current state of health care in the United States — including the problem of the 43 million uninsured Americans — is the biggest theme throughout the Democratic candidate’s platforms.

“America’s health care system is broken and everyone knows it,” said North Carolina Sen. John Edwards at a Manchester, New Hampshire Community Health Center. “Our health care system costs too much, expects too little, and fails too often.”

President Bush first revealed his health care agenda for the upcoming year in January’s State of the Union address. His plan includes limiting medical malpractice awards, a big issue among doctors in the past year. He also claims to be able to offer refundable tax credits to help low-income Americans but health insurance. However, while Bush spoke heartily on school drug testing and abstinence programs, he failed to mention the future of the nearly 65 million Americans without health care.

Edwards claims that his plan will provide universal health coverage for the 12 million children currently without health insurance and cover 93 percent of adult Americans. He says that the $53 billion a year it will cost will be paid for by offsets he has proposed, saying money will be left over for Social Security, education, and alleviating the deficit.

“When I arrived in the Senate, one of the first things I noticed was that there were more lobbyists for health insurance and big drug companies in Washington than people in my hometown,” said Edwards in his address on health care. “Working people like my parents don’t have lobbyists looking out for their needs. That’s why they need a president who will.”

Howard Dean touts his record as former governor of Vermont, saying that now 92 percent of adults and 96 percent of children have coverage. Dean’s proposed plan, which he says will cost $88.3 billion, claims to cover all children and adults up to age 25. Dean also connects his medical degree and commitment to medicine with his ability to provide Americans with quality care. However, it doesn’t seem as if Dean is getting more votes among Americans who claim health care to be their biggest concern — New Hampshire primary exit polls showed that among those who said health care was most important Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry led in votes by a 50 percent margin.

Health care and the economy were the issues that convinced New Hampshire voters to cast their ballot for John Kerry during the New Hampshire primary, according to exit polls. The same polls declared health care and the war in Iraq as the top issues in the race. Kerry’s plan, which he says will cost an average of $72 billion a year for five years claims to provide coverage for 95 percent of Americans and cover 99 percent of children. The plan also claims to provide Americans with access to the same health care plans as members of Congress.

Democratic candidates have also banded together against the recently passed Medicare revamp, which many Democrats claim will harm seniors. On Feb. 3, the Bush administration began to air nearly $10 million worth of television advertisements in an effort to build public support for the new prescription drug law. The Medicare bill, once estimated at $400 billion, will actually cost an estimated $134 more, according to the White House. “President Bush has said that one of the things he wants to have in 2004 is a debate about values. That’s exactly the date we should have, because I do not believe this president’s values are the values of the American people,” said Edwards, in his health care address.

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