Democrats Rally ‘Round Gephardt National Health Care Plan

April 29, 2003
Conrad F. Meier

House Democrats are meeting April 29, 2003, at a health care forum to discuss how the party can expand its focus beyond the prescription drug agenda to a larger plan to include limiting health care cost increases.

Representative George Miller (D-California) told CongressDaily/AM today that the intent of the three-hour forum is to promote an open dialog on the effects a slow economy is having on health care.

Meanwhile, Roll Call is reporting House Democrats are expected to "rally around key aspects" of the universal health insurance coverage proposal put forth by presidential candidate Richard Gephardt (D-Missouri) last week.

Under his sweeping national health care plan, Gephardt would:

  • expand access to coverage by roughly doubling the federal subsidy to businesses to pay for insurance premiums to 60 percent and would mandate employers provide coverage;

  • expand Medicare to allow individuals ages 55 to 64 to pay to enroll in the program;

  • provide federal subsidies to help the unemployed purchase health coverage through COBRA;

  • expand the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to cover parents of eligible children; and

  • provide $172 billion to state and local governments over the next three years to reimburse them for the cost of health insurance for their employees.


Already Confused

Gephardt claims the proposal would provide health insurance to 97 percent of the estimated 41 million U.S. residents who lack coverage. According to Gephardt campaign officials, the program would cost $214 billion in 2005 and $247 billion by 2007.

But according to Ronald Brownstein, writing in The Los Angeles Times on April 24, 2003, "The plan comes with a formidable price tag: Gephardt says it would cost nearly $700 billion just during its first three years. He proposed to pay for it primarily by repealing all the tax cuts that President Bush won in 2001-- and all the tax cuts that the administration now seeks."

To fund the plan, Gephardt would repeal previous tax cuts enacted by Congress. Although Democrats have failed to developed anything even close to the failed Clinton Health Plan, several party leaders say Gephardt's plan achieves two of the party's major goals: providing affordable health insurance for almost all U.S. residents and reducing the Bush administration's tax cuts.


"Pie in the Sky"

Word on The Hill has it that several Democrats think it highly unlikely the Democratic Caucus will adopt the Gephardt proposal in total, for fear of a consumer backlash. A House Democratic aide said Gephardt's plan would add to the discussion of creating a comprehensive Democratic approach, but that it would have to be modified if the caucus expects to get support from a majority of Democrats.

If former Vermont Governor Howard Dean's (also a Democratic presidential candidate) recent response to the Gephardt health plan is any indication, whatever the caucus devises may be meaningless. Dean called the Gephardt plan a "pie-in-the-sky radical revamping of our health care system."

Also according to CongressDaily/AM reports, Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, Blue Shield of California CEO Bruce Bodaken, and Chris Jennings, former Clinton administration health care policy adviser, are expected to attend the April 29 forum.


For further information, contact Heartland Public Affairs Director Greg Lackner at 312/377-4000, 773/489-6447, email lackner@heartland.org