President Bush traveled here Wednesday seeking support for his healthcare proposals, taking a turn at the controls of a surgical robot at a Chattanooga hospital and praising Tennessee’s effort to expand healthcare coverage to the uninsured.
At an event at this city’s convention center that was billed as a round table on his initiatives, Bush traded one-liners with a handful of workers who have had trouble getting health insurance and employers who have had difficulties providing it.
One of the workers was interior designer Amy Childers, whose employer does not offer health coverage. She said she had purchased private insurance, but dropped it last summer when she turned 35.
At that Bush interjected: “You don’t look a day over 34.”
“Most people say 22, but thanks,” Childers responded amid laughter from the audience. She added that she had dropped coverage because the cost went from $130 a month to $210.
“Doesn’t it make sense to change the tax code so that Amy Childers can better afford insurance?” Bush asked.
The president has proposed making medical insurance premiums deductible for all Americans, up to $15,000 for a family and $7,500 for individuals. Currently, employers can deduct healthcare premiums without limit, but individual taxpayers cannot.
Bush and his staff argue that the current system penalizes consumers who must purchase individual policies, such as the self-employed or those working for small businesses. They also say it creates an incentive for employers and employees to choose more expensive healthcare than they need, helping drive prices higher.
The president’s proposals have gotten a frosty reception on Capitol Hill. Democrats, who took control of both chambers of Congress last month, agree that health insurance should become more affordable for the self-employed. But they say that the biggest problem is the 47 million people in the United States with no health insurance, and that the president’s proposal would help only a small fraction of them.
In particular, congressional Democrats point out that the premium deduction would not help taxpayers who do not itemize deductions on their income tax returns. Instead, they favor a tax credit for premiums, which they say would help all taxpayers regardless of their filing status.
“While the president’s focus on healthcare is important, his proposals will only worsen the crisis by undermining the quality coverage that millions of working families now rely on, and replacing it with a tax break that will benefit the wealthiest Americans,” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said Wednesday in a statement.