Sen. Joe Lieberman pledged Tuesday to offer every American affordable health insurance from birth to age 25, part of a $747-billion health-care initiative he unveiled to counter plans already announced by several of his rivals for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination.
Aiming for the support of tens of millions of Americans who lack health insurance or fear losing it, Lieberman said his plan would extend coverage to 31.6 million uninsured people within a decade -- at less expense to the government than other Democratic candidates have proposed.
His program would create a new universal health program called “Medikids,” meant to guarantee coverage for the estimated 9 million children who are uninsured.
“When I’m president, newborn babies won’t go home just with a name and a birth certificate,” Lieberman said in a speech at an elementary school in Silver Spring, Md., just outside Washington. “All American children -- rich or poor -- will have health insurance that stays with them from the moment they’re born, all the way to age 25.”
With his announcement, the senator from Connecticut became the fifth prominent Democratic candidate to offer a comprehensive health-care plan. That all but ensures that whoever emerges as the party’s nominee will have a significant health-care platform -- far more ambitious, and costly, than anything President Bush has proposed. Lieberman’s campaign estimated his plan would cost $747 billion over 10 years.
Over that same period, a proposal by Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina would cost about $590 billion, while plans by Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean would cost $895 billion and $932 billion, respectively. On the high end, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri would spend $2.5 trillion over 10 years on a plan he says would guarantee health care and stimulate the economy.
At minimum, all five plans aim to cut in half the number of Americans without health insurance, now estimated at 41 million. Lieberman, Gephardt and Dean aim to slash that figure even further, each promising to help more than 30 million Americans gain coverage.
“They’re all serious plans,” said Kenneth E. Thorpe, a health policy expert at Emory University who worked in the Clinton administration and who has studied the proposals. “They’re all fairly expansive, big attempts to try to make a dent in this uninsured problem.”
Another Democratic contender, Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, is mulling significant expansion of health-care subsidies. Among other declared candidates, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois and activist the Rev. Al Sharpton of New York also favor major new government initiatives to help the uninsured and others struggling with rising monthly premiums.
By contrast, Bush has talked little about the uninsured, preferring to concentrate this year on his drive to lobby Congress to create prescription drug coverage under Medicare.
According to his campaign Web site, Bush would spend $117 billion on programs to improve health care access and affordability. “The president believes that everyone should be able to choose a health-care plan that meets their needs at a price they can afford,” the site says.
Lieberman charged Tuesday that the president’s efforts have failed to help Americans who are losing their jobs and their insurance in a weakened economy.
“Presented with a health-care system in trouble, George W. Bush has done nothing to heal the patient,” Lieberman said. “He has committed partisan political malpractice. And America is suffering as a result.”
Under Lieberman’s plan, the federal government would step up its commitment to children’s health insurance through existing programs, financed in partnership with states, and through the “Medikids” initiative, designed as an insurance backstop for children and young adults.
Lieberman would also create programs aimed at helping low-income workers and the unemployed buy inexpensive health care. And he would build on existing programs to help laid-off workers keep their coverage.
In addition, Lieberman would seek to establish new networks of health centers in schools serving families at or near the poverty level, create a new national center for curing diseases and support equal insurance treatment for mental patients.
To pay for his plan, Lieberman would repeal portions of the tax cuts enacted during Bush’s presidency that have favored the wealthiest taxpayers, his campaign spokesman, Jano Cabrera, said. Much of the plan would be phased in over several years.
Edwards’ campaign criticized that aspect. “Sen. Edwards doesn’t think we should wait ... to cover uninsured children,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri. “Our plan takes that step immediately.”
Gephardt spokesman Kim Molstre questioned the scope of Lieberman’s proposal. “This is a big and expensive problem,” Molstre said. “The only way to solve this problem is to have a big plan that covers everyone.”
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Sen. Joe Lieberman on Tuesday became the latest Democratic presidential contender to offer a plan to extend health coverage to many of the 41 million Americans who are uninsured. The plans vary in their estimated scope and cost; some candidates also propose measures to lower the cost of existing coverage.
Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut:
* Uninsured to be covered: 31.6 million.
* 10-year cost: $747 billion.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean:
* Uninsured to be covered: 30.2 million.
* 10-year cost: $932 billion.
Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina:
* Uninsured to be covered: 21.7 million.
* 10-year cost: $590 billion.
Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri:
* Uninsured to be covered: 30.9 million.
* 10-year cost: $2.5 trillion.
Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts:
* Uninsured to be covered: 26.7 million.
* 10-year cost: $895 billion.
Sources: Kenneth E. Thorpe, a health policy expert at Emory University in Georgia, and candidates’ aides.