Obama touts health care plan

Published May 30, 2007

WASHINGTON - Sen. Barack Obama on Tuesday offered an ambitious plan to curb health care costs and expand insurance coverage, in the latest example of Democratic presidential candidates honing strategies to achieve coverage for all.

Among the top three Democratic contenders, the Illinois senator joins John Edwards in outlining a comprehensive health reform plan. New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has the most experience with the issue, has offered some ideas to rein in costs and is working on a coverage plan.

Republicans have thus far largely shied away from health care but are expected to weigh in with ideas that stress individual responsibility and market reforms instead of reliance on government.

Obama unveiled his plan in a speech at the University of Iowa. It would expand the federal role in regulating insurers and paying for health care, particularly for the costliest cases. But it would stop short of creating a system in which the government paid all the bills. The proposal would require most employers to contribute toward workers' coverage and require parents to obtain insurance for their children through an employer, a government program, or on their own.

The plan's most far reaching aspect is a set of cost-containment reforms that Obama said could save a typical insured family up to $2, 500 a year by wringing out much of the inefficiency and waste that make the U.S. health care system the world's costliest.

Some experts said the plan is short on specifics, particularly regarding the hoped-for savings and the costs of providing coverage to the estimated 45-million uninsured.

The Edwards campaign also criticized the plan, saying the lack of a requirement that individuals buy health insurance means it will not achieve coverage for all.

Consultants to Obama said in a memo released by the campaign that $200-billion or more in annual savings are possible through a combination of changes to increase efficiency.

With savings from health care efficiency, Obama's campaign estimated it would cost $50-billion to $65-billion a year to cover the uninsured. That sum could be raised by allowing President Bush's tax cuts for upper-income taxpayers to expire, the campaign said.

Fast Facts:

Comparing universal health care plans

Barack Obama: Aims at lowering costs so all Americans can afford insurance, but would only require that children be covered. Aides say that if some Americans are still uninsured after a few years into the plan, Obama would reconsider the plan. Estimated cost: $50-billion to $65-billion annually.

John Edwards: The only other candidate who has laid out a specific plan. Edwards eventually would require every American to get health insurance. Cost estimated between $90-billion and $120-billion annually.

Hillary Rodham Clinton: No specifics, but she supports "true universal health care."