Democrat Barack Obama's proposal is as at least as sweeping as his opponent's, but in a different way. It is certainly much more elaborate, detailed in a 15-page position paper (pdf). Obama pledges to "tackle the root causes of health disparities" in ways big and small.
Restructuring insurance: Obama would create a national health plan available to all Americans, including the self-employed and small businesses. The plan would feature comprehensive benefits, similar to those offered to federal employees (including members of Congress), and would guarantee eligibility. The insurance would be portable and affordable. Participating insurance companies in the new public program would be required to demonstrate that they meet standards for quality, health information technology, and administration.
Additionally, Obama would develop a National Health Insurance Exchange, a venue for individuals to purchase insurance, including the new public plan. The exchange would offer transparency, as well as rules and standards for participating private insurers. (Exchange plans, for example, could not deny coverage or base premiums on health status, and would have to be at least as generous as the public plan.) Meanwhile, all insurers, even those not part of the exchange, would have to dedicate a "reasonable share" of premium revenue to patient care rather than administrative costs or profit, and disclose that share. The exchange, in conjunction with the new public plan and other federal insurance programs, would also exert pressure on the medical industry by "aligning incentives for excellence" -- that is, it will reward providers for "achieving performance thresholds on outcome measures," rather than paying them for the amount of services performed.
Small firms would get a refundable Small Business Health Tax Credit of up to 50 percent against premiums they pay on behalf of their employees. Larger companies that "do not offer or make a meaningful contribution to the cost of quality health coverage" would have to pay a percentage of their payroll toward the costs of the national plan. Obama would reimburse employer health plans for a portion of the catastrophic costs they incur above a threshold, if the savings lower the cost of workers' premiums.
Obama would mandate health care coverage for all children, and expand eligibility for the Medicaid and SCHIP programs. Those who cannot afford coverage for themselves or their children but do not qualify for these government programs would get subsidies to buy insurance through the exchange.
Finally, individual states could continue to experiment with reform on their own, provided they meet the federal plan's minimum standards.
Lowering costs and improving care: Obama proposes a number of initiatives to improve medicine while lowering costs:
Other health initiatives:
The Obama Record: Obama has voted consistently to strengthen and increase access to government public health initiatives -- he voted with the APHA 100 percent in 2006 and 2007. "He's been very good on prevention and public health, on the state level as well as nationally," says the APHA's Benjamin. But, he adds, Obama isn't perfect: on the organization's 2005 scorecard, "he got an 80."