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Senate hopefuls differ on health care

BOISE – Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden traveled Thursday to Idaho to tout his bipartisan health care reform legislation and campaign for Democratic Senate candidate Larry LaRocco.

Wyden and LaRocco presided at a roundtable meeting with doctors, hospital officials, employers, AARP, labor representatives and others.

“To fix health care, you’ve got to cover everybody, because if you don’t, the people who are uninsured shift their bill to those who are insured,” Wyden said.

His amended Healthy Americans Act has more than a dozen co-sponsors. Among them are Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. The plan requires everyone to have coverage, giving all Americans the option of keeping their present, employer-provided health care plan or switching to new, lower-cost private-sector plans that would cover basic care.

The five Senate candidates seeking the seat being vacated by Sen. Larry Craig have staked out varying positions on health care reform – some parallel to Wyden’s vision, some in opposition.

Jim Risch, Republican

In an interview, Risch insisted that 83 percent of Americans have “private insurance,” and the rest of the population is covered by Medicare, Medicaid or emergency rooms.

“The 83 percent have grown up in a free market system that includes free choice by people,” he said, “and I’m not one that is going to use the excuse that 17 percent are uninsured to throw out the current system for the 83 percent.”

Risch’s data differs from findings from the U.S. Census Bureau, which reports that just 67.5 percent of Americans were covered by private health insurance in 2007, including the 59.3 percent covered by employer-based insurance. The census reported that 15.3 percent of Americans – about 45.7 million people – had no health coverage in 2007, which means 84.7 percent had coverage of some type, including Medicare and Medicaid.

He added, “I’m not going to go to a single-payer system, period. I am not going to go to a system where the government takes over your health insurance or your health care; I’m not going there.”

Larry LaRocco, Democrat

LaRocco said health care will be at the root of the country’s next economic crisis, “because the cost of health care is outstripping inflation.”

He said he’s committed to bipartisan work toward implementing his plan to move toward universal care and “build an American-based system that’s affordable.”

LaRocco said his plan touches on, among other things:

•Creating a portable system, which lets Americans take their coverage from job to job.

•A focus on preventive care.

•Letting unemployed people deduct premiums from taxes.

•Improving care in underserved areas of Idaho that need doctors and nurses.

LaRocco’s detailed plan is posted on his Web site,, under the “Issues” heading.

Pro-Life, independent

Pro-Life, who legally changed his name from Marvin Richardson, said health care – like other “social functions” including education and welfare – should not be a government function.

“The government should just get out of all of that,” he said.

Rex Rammell, independent

Rammell said he backs GOP presidential candidate John McCain’s proposal to provide a tax credit of $2,500 for individuals or $5,000 a couple for people to purchase their own insurance, while making employer-provided benefits taxable.

“It’ll incentivize people to move away from employer-based insurance to individual-based insurance,” Rammell said.

“We have more control over it, and it would allow us to buy insurance anywhere across the country. … The premiums should come down if we put another 47 million people into the insurance pool. It’s a way for everybody to get insurance.”

Kent Marmon, Libertarian

Marmon cites high costs and “pass-throughs” of people who can’t pay their bills or lack insurance – as among the biggest challenges facing the health care system. He blames the federal government for the high costs, because of regulation of the drug and medical industries.