McCain, Obama healthcare plans at a glance

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John McCain would turn to the free market to improve healthcare.

He’d provide tax credits of $2,500 per individual and $5,000 per family to help them buy insurance. He’d pay for it by taxing as income the healthcare benefits that people currently receive from their employers.

He’d also spur deregulation by allowing individuals to buy healthcare insurance in different states, believing that would increase competition and lower costs. For people with preexisting health conditions who can’t get private insurance, Mr. McCain would expand the current state-run high risk pools that offer insurance as a last resort. But he sets no limits on how much insurance companies in the pool can charge.

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Critics contend the proposal would undermine consumer protections, prompt thousands of businesses to stop providing coverage, and reduce the number of uninsured by only a small fraction. They also note that without mandating insurance companies to cover people with preexisting conditions, those companies will continue to cater to the young and healthy. That would leave one of the key problems in the nation’s healthcare system – the uninsured – unaddressed.

Barack Obama would take a very different approach.

He’d build on the current private/public system. He’d expand Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and set up a National Health Insurance Exchange that would include a range of approved private plans. Small businesses and individuals without coverage could buy into it, and he’d require all participating plans to offer “reasonable” rates. He’d require that insurance companies cover individuals, regardless of their preexisting conditions. He’d also mandate that all children be covered, either by their parents’ private plans or the expanded SCHIP. For families that couldn’t afford it, he’d provide subsidies. Obama would also mandate that all large businesses provide health insurance or pay into a fund that would be used to subsidize individuals who have to buy insurance on their own.

Some critics contend that the Obama plan calls for too much government regulation of the health insurance industry. Others argue that it still doesn’t do enough: It should mandate coverage for all Americans and not just children, they say. One analysis found that it would end up covering only half of the uninsured. Another criticism is that the Obama campaign has not yet defined how big a “big business” must be before it is required to cover its employees.

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