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 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’s plan would expand the federal role in regulating insurers and paying for health care. But it would stop short of creating a Canadian-style 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.
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.
The Edwards campaign criticized the plan, saying the lack of a requirement that individuals buy health insurance means it will not achieve coverage for all.
Edwards’ own proposal includes a so-called “individual mandate” requiring individuals to buy insurance, and employers would have to help pay for coverage for their workers.
But Obama campaign officials said the senator felt it would be unfair to impose an individual mandate unless health care costs could first be brought under control. The Obama plan should cover at least 98 percent of U.S. residents, the officials said, and Obama would fine-tune it to cover the remainder. Obama has pledged that, if elected, he would sign legislation guaranteeing coverage for all by the end of his first term.