Health coverage gets a push

Mfume proposal would provide insurance for all

August 31, 2006|By Matthew Hay Brown | Matthew Hay Brown,sun reporter

Standing in front of the University of Maryland Medical Center, former U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume issued a call yesterday for health insurance for all Americans through a publicly funded, privately provided program.

"Forty-six million people got up this morning with absolutely no health insurance at all," Mfume, running for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate, told two dozen supporters at University Plaza in Baltimore. "And they will go all day long, praying, hoping that they or their child or the spouse or their parent doesn't get ill in this, the greatest, the wealthiest, the most powerful nation on the face of the earth. ... We can do better than that."

At an event to pick up the endorsements of U.S. Reps. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore and Albert R. Wynn of Prince George's County, Mfume said that increasing access to health care must also mean driving down health disparities among racial and economic groups. He has promoted single-payer health insurance, in which the government would fund care to be delivered by private providers - a scheme he likens to "Medicare for all."

U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, Mfume's principal rival for the Democratic nomination, has made universal health insurance a centerpiece of his campaign. Cardin, who voted in subcommittee in 1994 for a proposal that would have provided coverage to all Americans, said yesterday that he is open to a variety of approaches to reach the goal.

"There's three ways you get to universal coverage," Cardin said. "Increasing employer responsibility, increasing government responsibility and increasing individual responsibility.

"You can use a little bit of all three. To me, the goal is universal coverage. I don't want people without health insurance."

As examples of increasing government responsibility, Cardin noted his work to expand Medicare to include cancer screenings, diabetes self-management and osteoporosis screenings.

"I'm responsible for the preventive health care package in the Medicare system," he said. "It really changed the philosophy of Medicare from a program that covered people's illness and injury to one that tries to keep them healthy."

Outside the University of Maryland Medical Center with Mfume yesterday, Richard Humphrey, a physician who teaches at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Bloomberg School of Public Health, called the expression "health care system" a misnomer.

"It's not about health care, and it's not a system," said Humphrey. "It's about diverting money to the corporate insurance system, high CEO salaries, getting the stock on Wall Street to be elevated."

Wynn said the uninsured include his daughter and grandson. "She's a working mom," he said. "But if he gets a cold, if he has asthma, what are they going to do? That is not uncommon."

The endorsements by Cummings and Wynn have split the Democratic members of the Maryland delegation. House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger have endorsed Cardin. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the remaining Maryland Democrat in the House, said yesterday he would not make an endorsement.

Also yesterday, Mfume said he would begin advertising on television this week. His campaign has bought time on network affiliates in Baltimore and Washington.

Cardin and Montgomery County businessman Josh Rales, another Democratic candidate, have been airing television advertisements for weeks; Mfume has been limited to radio spots.

"Wall-to-wall television is important, but hand-to-hand campaigning is more important," he said. "Much more important."

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