McCain: “Happy Festivus, Insurance Industry!”

Over the past couple of months, a discussion on the core issues facing Americans has pretty much fallen by the wayside during the presidential campaign. Americans expect an adult debate on foreign policy, the economy and health care. Instead, the 24-hour news cycle is obsessed with one candidate’s middle name and who’s most at home taking shots at a bar.

It’s not surprising that people are getting fed up.

Fortunately for those of us who relish meaningful policy discourse, Senator John McCain is hitting the road this week to trumpet his plan for reforming the nation’s broken health care system.

As a primer for the headlines that are sure to come, I thought it might be important to highlight some questions about the Senator’s core policy prescription; tax credits to spur the purchase of private insurance.

Prior to the questions, however, let’s review some important facts about Senator McCain’s intimate relationship with the insurance industry.

Over the past dozen years, Senator McCain has raised about $3.5 million from interests tied to the insurance industry. Just shy of forty lobbyists from the industry are listed as fundraisers, co-hosts of events, or staffers for the Senator. Furthermore, several high-ranking members of the McCain campaign staff are high-paid lobbyists for insurance interests. (The campaign finance and lobbying figures are based on Public Campaign Action Fund analysis of data obtained from the Center for Responsive Politics).

With this primer, three questions come to mind for the Senior Senator from Arizona.

1. How will your health care plan control cost if tens of millions of Americans remain without health coverage and thus turn to emergency rooms for their care?

2. How will your plan control cost and maintain access for the millions of Americans living with chronic health problems (so called “preexisting conditions)?

3. Will you propose much-needed insurance reforms, such as a requirement that at least 90 cents of each dollar spent on insurance premiums go directly to health care, and not administrative overhead for insurance companies?

The last question is perhaps the most important.

Both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama have health care plans that, to one degree or another, require employers and individuals to purchase private insurance. I’ll be the first to question the wisdom of mandating the purchase of a decidedly inferior product.

So, if Senator McCain is aiming to incentivize the purchase of this same inferior product, how is he going to ensure the product (health insurance) is vastly improved?

As it is, premium rates far outpace the cost if inflation each year.

By simply enacting tax breaks and subsequently telling Americans to fend for themselves, nothing has been done to actually control the cost of insurance. Instead, the federal budget loses even more revenue-revenue that will be in effect diverted to the bank accounts of the private insurance industry.

That’s hardly the kind of reform Americans deserve.

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