Both Side Of A Healthy Debate

October 20, 2008

The analyses

The Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit organization that supports independent research on health care, finds fundamental differences between the two plans. The organization has summarized the candidates' positions in 22 areas, including prescription drugs, health care disparities, preventive medicine and chronic disease management. Go to common wealthfund.org.

The K aiser Family Foundation has several tools exploring McCain's and Obama's positions on health issues, including a side-by-side comparison of the candidates' proposals to reduce the number of uninsured and deal with public programs like Medicare; their positions on taxing employees' health benefits; and their plans to pay for it all. The site also includes comparisons of the candidates' positions on stem cell research, electronic medical records, medical malpractice, mental health parity, prescription drug costs, women's health and veterans' health. Go to health08.org.

The Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution, estimates that over 10 years, McCain's plan would cost the federal budget $1.3 trillion, while Obama's plan would cost $1.6 trillion. Go to taxpolicycenter.org.

Political scientist Jonathan Oberlander, associate professor of social medicine and health policy and administration at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, offers an analysis of the candidates' plans in the Aug. 21 New England Journal of Medicine, including a chart with key points. For this and other journal reports on the campaign, look for the "Election 2008" label at the journal's Web site. Go to content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/359/8/781.

WebMD, one-stop shopping for medical news, offers the information in relatively small bites. Look for the "Election 2008" label. Go to webmd.com.

The criticism

Health policy advisers to Obama and McCain summed up the candidates' criticism of their opponents' plans in an Oct. 1 debate. Dr. Irwin Redlener, adviser to Obama, said, "The health care system is wacky and out of control. It can't run amok. That's what Wall Street did." Dr. William Winkenwerder, speaking for McCain's plan, said, "We're spending $800 billion more for health care than we did just eight years ago. It's scary when you think about it." Listen to a podcast of the debate at virginia.edu/uvapodcast.

Physicians for a National Health Program, a group that wants universal health coverage through a single-payer system, said in an open letter to both candidates that any reform plan that continues to depend on the private health insurance model is wasteful, drives up costs and won't cover everyone. Go to pnhp.org.

The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, has concluded that Obama's plan relies too heavily on government and that McCain's plan, while not perfect, is better from a free-market perspective. Go to cato.org.

$2.1 trillion

What the United States spent on health care in 2006, according to national health expenditure data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. That number is expected to hit $4.3 trillion by the end of 2017 - 19.5 percent of the gross domestic product.

59 percent

The percentage of Americans with employer-based health insurance in 2006, according to the National Coalition on Health Care. That number fell from 70 percent in 1987.

8 percent

Enrollment in high-deductible health plans with savings options rose from 5 percent in 2007 to this number this year, according to the Employer Health Benefits 2008 Annual Survey.

more than 42 million

How many U.S. residents lack insurance, according to the most recent National Health Interview Survey. That is 14 percent of the population.

3rd

Where health care ranks among worries on the minds of registered voters, after the economy and Iraq, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted this month. By party affiliation, it remains third among Democrats, but Republicans put it at worry No. 6, after the economy, gas prices, Iraq, terrorism and taxes.

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