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Practically Speaking

Kyle and her husband moved to Brookfield in 1986. She became active in local politics and started blogging in 2004. Her focus is primarily on local issues but often includes state and national topics, too. Kyle looks at things from the taxpayers' perspective in a creative, yet down to earth way, addressing them from a practical point of view.

Wall Street Journal on McCain vs. Obama's health plan

Elections, Government / Bureaucracy, Health care, McCain 2008, Obama 2008

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122343823408914411.html Obama and Health-Care Equity, Barack defends tax subsidies for the rich  

 

 For someone running as the tribune of "change," Barack Obama showed again in last night's debate that he sure is comfortable with the status quo on health care. He continued his recent assaults on John McCain's health reform even though it is precisely the kind of plan that someone of Mr. Obama's professed convictions ought to support.

The attacks include swing-state TV spots and Joe Biden's multiple distortions, though the most over-the-top come from the candidate himself. Over the weekend, Mr. Obama called the McCain plan "radical," "out of line with our basic values" and, in case he wasn't clear, "catastrophic for your health care." Since Mr. McCain offered only a once-over-lightly defense of his plan, allow us to give it a try.

Perhaps Mr. Obama is so agitated because Mr. McCain's proposal is highly progressive. The Republican wants to readjust the subsidies that Congress channels into health coverage for business so that lower- and middle-wage workers aren't shortchanged, as they are now. Currently, people who get insurance through their employers pay no income or payroll taxes on the value of the benefit. This is revenue the government forgoes to encourage certain behavior. If those losses were direct spending, the tax exemption would have cost more than $246 billion in 2007.

But all that money props up only employer-provided insurance. For reasons of historical accident and lobbying clout, individuals who buy policies get no tax benefits and pay with after-tax dollars. Mr. McCain is proposing to make the tax benefits available to everyone, regardless of how they purchase their insurance.

He would offer a refundable tax credit of $5,000 for families, $2,500 for individuals, and the benefit isn't dependent on where people work or what they earn. Some would stick with their current job-based coverage. Given the option, others -- especially the uninsured, armed with new health dollars -- would decide to buy coverage on their own. That in turn would stimulate a market for more affordable insurance.

Mr. Obama doesn't want to let people make this choice. He even claims it would amount to "taxing your health-care benefits for the first time in history," which is a wild distortion. His point seems to be that because companies wouldn't have to pay for health care, they could raise wages and thus taxes would also increase for workers on those higher incomes. But doesn't Mr. Obama want higher wages?

All in all, workers would come out ahead with the McCain plan. According to the left-leaning Tax Policy Center, the average taxpayer would see his tax bill drop by $1,241 in 2009. On average, lower-wage workers have more limited coverage as part of their compensation, mostly from small- or medium-size businesses. But the more generous the employer health plan, the more the tax subsidies increase. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, the current employer benefit is only worth between $600 and $3,000 for people making under $100,000. The upper-income brackets save between $4,000 and $5,000.

The most affluent -- i.e., the top quintile of earners -- would be slightly worse off after 2013 under the McCain plan, though they'd still have plenty of options. Even as he routinely promises to raise taxes on "the rich," Mr. Obama is leaping to their unlikely defense here only to frighten everyone else. The McCain plan is fairer than the status quo, which subsidizes the most expensive employer (and union) insurance plans.

But don't take our word for it. Mr. Obama's chief economic adviser agrees with the McCain critique of the current system, or at least he once did. "This massive program of tax breaks is ineffective and regressive, wasting money on those who have health insurance while doing little for those who can barely afford it and nothing at all for those without it," wrote Jason Furman in 2006 in the journal Democracy. Before he joined the Obama campaign, Mr. Furman championed a health reform that relied on many of the same tax tools as Mr. McCain's.

In contrast to Mr. McCain, the Obama plan is all about expanding government health care. Mr. Obama is proposing a "public option" that is similar to Medicare but open to everyone of any age. With this new taxpayer-funded entitlement, private insurers would be crowded out as the government gradually paid all of the country's health-care costs.

Yet according to the Congressional Budget Office, federal spending on Medicare and Medicaid already takes up 4% of GDP today and will rise to an unsustainable 9% over the next two decades. Mr. Obama wants to add even more costs to this taxpayer balance sheet. The inevitable result as spending explodes would be price controls and rationing.

On choice, portability, quality and especially equity, the McCain health plan is far superior to Mr. Obama's. The Democrat is merely offering Canada on the installment plan.

 

 

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