2015-10-02 / Front Page

Broader health care debate again for 2016

By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR Associated Press

WASHINGTON — After seven years of the political drama known as “Obamacare,” you might think voters would be tired of big ideas for revamping health care. If so, the presidential candidates seem to have missed the memo.

The 2016 hopefuls in both parties are offering a full spectrum of options, from a system wholly run by the federal government to dialing back Washington’s lead role. Much is promised by the candidates, but each approach has pitfalls.

On the left, part of the appeal of Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders is his years-long advocacy of “single payer,” a tax-supported, Medicare-like plan for all. The idea is in the political DNA of liberals, and Sanders as president would lead a movement to make it happen, his campaign says.

On the right are the Republicans, united on repealing President Barack Obama’s health care law, but unable to agree on what they would replace it with. They wouldn’t stop with the Affordable Care Act, either. Republicans also want curbs on Medicaid, to reduce spending and let states, not Washington, set the tone. Medicaid covers low-income and disabled people.

In the middle – if one still exists on such a polarized issue – is Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton. She would keep the basic structure of Medicare, Medicaid and the Obama health law while making incremental changes. This week she proposed repealing an insurance tax in the health law that’s opposed by unions and big business but seen by experts as a needed brake on costs. She also wants to curb prescription drug prices and limit insurance cost-shifting to consumers.

“The only person not in favor of ‘repeal and replace’ is Hillary Clinton,” quips Republican economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin. “There is a debate being presented to the American people: Do you want to go further left, or do you want to go in the direction conservatives are advocating? The person who is basically arguing for the status quo is Hillary Clinton.”

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