Candidates' Health Advisors Spar, Doctors Say Challenges Remain


BALTIMORE (Oct. 20, 2008)—The answer to better health care lies in the tax credits Sen. John McCain would provide all Americans to offset the cost of insurance, his senior health advisor told faculty and students at The Johns Hopkins Hospital Friday.

Sen. Barack Obama's health policy advisor called the strategy "grossly inadequate" compared to Obama's plan requiring insurance companies cover Americans regardless of pre-existing health conditions.

"We don't agree that the Warren Buffets of the world should get the same tax credit as Joe the plumber," said Obama's advisor Dr. Dora Hughes, referencing McCain's highly publicized example of an Ohio man from Wednesday's presidential debate.

The comment from Hughes, who has worked on health policy in the U.S. Senate, elicited substantial laughter from the audience.

The advisors to McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, and to Obama, his Democratic counterpart, appeared at a forum at The Johns Hopkins Hospital to present the candidates' views on health care and policy to faculty, staff and students.

Most in attendance agreed that while only a little more than two weeks remain before the presidential election, they were still open to hearing both candidates' ideas regarding health care reform.

"I think today it was obvious that there are lots of possibilities for how we can achieve our common goal of affordable, high-quality health care," said Dr. Scott Berkowitz, a cardiology fellow at the hospital. "Today certainly reaffirmed the need for bipartisan solutions to these problems."

McCain's health care plan would provide a $5,000 refundable tax credit to families, or $2,500 to individuals, which could be put towards the health insurance plan of their choice. The plan also calls for more "mobile" health insurance that would move with individuals from one employer to the next.

Obama's plan would establish a National Health Insurance Exchange, providing both private health insurance options as well as a new public plan, to guarantee that all Americans have access to coverage. It would also require that cancer screenings and other preventative procedures be covered by insurance.

The economic crisis, and its effects on health care, was on the minds of several audience members and the advisors.

After Hughes discussed nutrition in schools and said the best intervention requires funding, McCain's advisor, Congressman Michael Burgess, R-Texas, reminded the group that after the financial bailout earlier this month any possibilities of new funding just "walked out the door."

Burgess focused on the exciting possibilities in health care being opened up by genetic research.

"There's no doubt health care will become more predictive, more preventative and more participatory," Burgess said.

No matter who is elected in November, most agreed the next administration will have a long way to go to address the concerns of the medical community. Among the issues discussed were the decline in primary care physicians, health care disparities among minorities and funding for stem cell research.

"One of the most sobering parts of today was just hearing first-hand about the difficulties of the legislative process in getting any reforms passed," said Dr. Marc Sonenshine, an internal medicine doctor who helped organize the forum.

Possibly, the most memorable comment of the day came from Obama's advisor.

"If we can bail out the banks, then certainly we can bail out the families and patients in our system," Hughes said.

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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