tampabay.com

Bush promotes his health care proposal

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published February 22, 2007


CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - President Bush on Wednesday promoted his plan that would expand health care coverage to millions of people by shifting decisions - and responsibility - to individuals.

Bush's proposal is one of the few major initiatives from his scaled-back State of the Union address last month. It assumes market forces and tax law changes will expand affordable choices.

"The best decisions are made by providers and patients, not by governments or insurance companies," Bush said at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

"If you want a health care system that really works, you want the decisionmaker to be the individual, in consultation with somebody who knows what they're talking about - somebody trained to help that person make the proper decision," Bush said. "That'd be your doctor."

Under Bush's proposal, the law for the first time would treat health insurance costs as taxable income, meaning workers' taxable wages would rise.

In turn, Bush wants a standard tax deduction for people who buy health insurance: $15,000 for family coverage, $7,500 for individual coverage. The tax bill would go down for people who pick policies below the size of the new deduction.

Democratic leaders say the plan does little to help the poorest of the uninsured and undercuts a system built on employer-provided coverage.

"While the president's focus on health care is important, his proposals will only worsen the crisis by undermining the quality coverage that millions of working families now rely on," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. He is chairman of the Senate committee that oversees health matters.

White House officials see health care as one of a few areas in which they might advance their agenda with Democrats who now control Congress. The effort got a boost last week when a bipartisan group of 10 senators told Bush they want to work with him to expand health coverage.

The White House characterizes its approach as one of basic fairness: Everyone would get the same tax deduction whether covered through a job or on his own.

Bush also wants to redirect federal dollars that hospitals and other institutions get to help cover costs for caring for the uninsured. With this money, states would set up programs to assist people in getting health coverage and help people with high-cost health conditions.