Health care plans affect citizens of all ages

During the Democratic primaries, one of the hot-button issues constantly in the media was the future of the American healthcare system. Though the debate has cooled, healthcare is still one of the issues on the forefront of the presidential race.

This is not without good reason. According to OnTheIssues.org, “16% of Americans (42 million people) have no health insurance (and hence must pay for health services in full, or receive hospital charity).”

Both candidates agree that something must be done about this, but they differ on how affordable healthcare coverage for all Americans should be achieved.

Obama’s plan is one that will establish a system of “universal healthcare,” which, according to his website, “will make available a new national health plan to all Americans, including the self-employed and small businesses, to buy affordable health coverage that is similar to the plan available to members of Congress…The plan will cover all essential medical services, including preventive, maternity and mental health care.”

Many critics have taken this to mean that Obama supports mandatory health insurance, but his campaign has been careful to point out that universal healthcare would make affordable coverage available to everyone who wants it, but not mandatory for adults.

Other critical points in Obama’s plan include a tax credit for small businesses, requiring employers to contribute either to the national plan or to health coverage for their employees, mandatory insurance coverage for minors and expanded eligibility for Medicaid and SCHIP programs.

One part of Obama’s plan that is of particular interest to Tech’s biomedical engineering students is his support of medical research and his promise to increase its funding. According to his website, “As president, Obama will strengthen funding for biomedical research, and better improve the efficiency of that research by improving coordination both within government and across government/private/non-profit partnerships”

McCain, on the other hand, has opted not to support universal healthcare, claiming that it would reduce competition and drive prices up. Instead, he has advocated tax breaks to help Americans afford private insurance. McCain’s website states that, “every family will receive a direct refundable tax credit – effectively cash – of $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families to offset the cost of insurance.”

Interestingly, though the candidate’s insurance plans differ greatly, other aspects of their healthcare policies overlap a great deal. In several areas, the candidate’s plans are, if not identical, strikingly similar.

One of these is the need to lower drug prices. Both candidates have promised to work to lower the cost of medication, and, in many cases, have advocated similar methods. For example, both Obama and McCain have promised to lower the costs of prescription drugs. Both advocate allowing the re-importation of drugs from Canada and speeding the introduction of generic drugs into the market. In addition, Obama is also pushing to make it easier for senior citizens to buy medication in bulk to save taxpayers’ money.

Another issue the candidate’s agree on is the need for regulations that make it possible for patients with pre-existing conditions to get affordable insurance. This is included implicitly in Obama’s plan for universal healthcare, but both he and McCain have voiced support for this problem. McCain’s campaign website states that, “As president, John McCain would work with governors to find the solutions necessary to ensure those with pre-existing conditions are able to easily access care,” while Obama’s states that, “No American will be turned away from any insurance plan because of illness or pre-existing conditions.”

Both candidates have also advocated allowing states to create their own healthcare plans. Both see state-sponsored plans as ways of giving more flexibility to healthcare and experimenting with different plans.

According to Obama’s website, under his plan, “States can continue to experiment, provided they meet the minimum standards of the national plan.” McCain’s site makes similar remarks.

Patients, however, aren’t the only part of the healthcare system the two candidates wish to reform; both Obama and McCain have spoken out on defending doctors from corrupt malpractice policies. Obama’s site has stated that he, “will strengthen antitrust laws to prevent insurers from overcharging physicians for their malpractice insurance,” while McCain’s states that he plans to, “pass medical liability reform that eliminates lawsuits directed at doctors who follow clinical guidelines and adhere to safety protocols.”

While students might be asking themselves why they should care about the state of American healthcare, in just a few short years, they will begin to feel the effects of the next president’s policies. Whether as an employee, an employer, a family member, a student or simply as a fiscally independent adult, the quality, cost, and availability of health insurance will factor heavily into decisions about careers, savings and even the state in which they choose to live.