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Republicans and Democrats far apart on healthcare reform and how to accomplish it

Plans for nation’s health insurance vary

One of the major — and most contentious — issues in last fall’s Presidential campaign was the two candidates’ approach to reforming the U.S. healthcare system.

John McCain and Barack Obama differed wildly in their approach.

Republican McCain favored a tax credit that essentially would have allowed consumers to shop for health insurance on the open market, rather than being tied to the health insurance offered by their employer.

McCain’s approach would have taxed employer-sponsored health insurance as income, which would have removed the tax exemption granted to the roughly 177 million Americans who receive health insurance through their employers. McCain planned to the proposed tax credit to offset that hit.

Obama’s plan tilted toward expanding government-issued health insurance. It would require employers to provide health benefits to their employees or to contribute to a new public program, which would resemble the current Medicare program.

Small employers, along with those who had no employer-sponsored health insurance, could enroll in the new program, with subsidies available based on income.

Under Obama’s plan, all children would be required to have health insurance. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicaid would be expanded.

Since his inauguration Jan. 20, the nearly $900-billion economic stimulus package has been at the forefront of the first few days of Obama’s presidency.

Included in the package is relief for those enrolled in the Cobra health insurance program and money for the modernization of health records.

In all, $144 billion of the stimulus package is allocated for healthcare.

Financial relief does not represent an overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system.

There still remains the disagreement among party lines over who actually pays for healthcare beyond the deductible – the government or a health insurance company.

Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi introduced legislation last summer that would have enacted a plan similar to McCain’s. Included in Wicker’s bill were six steps designed, he said, to eliminate barriers to healthcare that in turn drive up healthcare costs. It also limited government involvement that Wicker claimed would narrow patient choices.

“(This bill) will serve as a pathway to insuring the millions of Americans who are currently without health insurance,” Wicker said in a statement.

Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi supports a universal healthcare plan similar to Obama’s.

With so many factions supporting the two fundamentally different payer plans, and with the enormity of the nation’s healthcare system, sweeping reform is unlikely to occur within a short period. More probable is incremental changes to the system.

One such attempt at change failed last year in the Mississippi Legislature.

Gov. Haley Barbour proposed a health insurance exchange he said would have made it easier for small businesses and their employees obtain private health insurance. It was a rough, state-level version of McCain’s national healthcare plan that would not have tied employees to their employer-sponsored health insurance. The legislation cleared the Senate 52-0 but was not brought up in the House.

In his State of the State address Jan. 13, Barbour urged lawmakers to revisit the issue this session, saying it’s the private sector — not government — “that makes the greatest difference in what happens in our economy.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .

About Clay Chandler

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