Lieberman Takes on Health Care Reform

Published October 1, 2003

Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman in August went public with his plans for expanding government intervention into the health care arena, the last of the major Democratic Presidential contenders to weigh in on the issue.

Lieberman’s “MediKids,” “MediChoice,” and “KeepCare” proposals are aimed at insurance for children, small-business employees, and laid-off workers.

Kenneth Thorpe, a health policy analyst at Emory University, estimated Lieberman’s proposals would extend coverage to 31.6 million of the 41 million Americans who lack health insurance, at a projected cost of $53.4 billion a year.

Lieberman told the USA Today editorial board he has found widespread anxiety about health care on the campaign trail, especially among those who fear the loss of a job will bring with it the loss of health insurance coverage as well.

According to Lieberman campaign spokesperson Jano Cabrera, the senator would fund his health care proposal by raising taxes–repealing portions of tax cuts implemented by President George W. Bush–and through “savings” Cabrera did not describe. Lieberman says he would not increase the federal deficit to pay for expanded health care programs.

Lieberman Proposals

  • MediKids: A program to provide access to health coverage for children and young people up to age 25. Families with incomes as much as three times the federal poverty level would be eligible to enroll in the program, which would cover 100 percent of all premium costs. Families with annual incomes above $50,000 would pay premiums estimated at $1,600 a year. MediKids would provide health coverage to approximately nine million uninsured children.
  • MediChoice: A program to allow self-employed people and the employees of small businesses to buy the insurance coverage available to federal employees under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Premiums would vary depending on income. Refundable tax credits would be used to ensure no one paid more than 7.5 percent of their income for the coverage.
  • KeepCare: A proposal to help laid-off workers and other employees who lose coverage by requiring all employer-sponsored health plans to extend insurance benefits for at least two months after an employee leaves and by offering tax credits to cover 65 percent of premiums for workers who choose to extend their coverage through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). KeepCare also would create new insurance pools through which COBRA recipients and workers receiving unemployment insurance would have access to previous benefits for one year.

According to the Lieberman for President Web site,, both the MediKids and MediChoice programs would keep costs down by capping insurance company profits at 2 percent.

Lieberman also would give states the authority and funding to expand Medicaid to adults with annual incomes up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level. Lieberman said he would also seek to establish new networks of health centers in schools serving families at or near the federal poverty level; would create a national center for curing diseases; and would support parity in coverage for mental and physical ailments. The New York Times quoted Lieberman as saying, “Unlike some of the other Presidential candidates, I understand that we don’t just need more coverage; we need better care.”


Lieberman told the Hartford Courant he wants to build on what works in the nation’s current health care system and fix what does not work. He also claimed his plan would have “the lowest cost per person” of any of the plans presented by Presidential candidates.

According to the Wall Street Journal, one of the main differences between Lieberman’s plan and those proposed by other candidates is that Lieberman focuses more on extending coverage to the uninsured and less on lowering insurance costs for workers.

Greg Scandlen, director of the Galen Institute’s Center for Consumer Driven Health Care, thinks Lieberman’s proposal–and those touted by the other candidates, for that matter–misses the most important health care reform targets. “There are many other examples of how badly the current system serves the modern workforce,” said Scandlen. “The federal government loses more than $120 billion a year in taxes because employer-sponsored health insurance is tax-free compensation. But there is no tax break at all if you buy your own coverage or pay directly for health care services. Federal tax policy forces us all to rely on our employers for coverage.”

Conrad F. Meier is managing editor of Health Care News. His email address is [email protected].