Democratic presidential candidate Dick Gephardt on Wednesday detailed his plan to give all Americans access to health insurance, the centerpiece of his presidential campaign and what he called the "moral issue of our time."
Gephardt said the first bill he would send to Congress as president would require every company to provide health insurance for its employees, with 60 percent of the cost paid by a refundable tax credit. The bill also would repeal Bush's tax cuts to pay the more than $200 billion annual cost to the federal government.
Currently, employers can get tax deductions that cover about 30 percent of their health care costs. Gephardt said by doubling the government's share of the cost, companies would have more money to invest and could increase wages, providing a jump-start to the economy.
"This is the right way to stimulate the economy — not knee-jerk tax cuts that do nothing but pay off George Bush's wealthy campaign contributors while killing economic growth," the Missouri congressman said in a speech to the Service Employees International Union, which represents 1.5 million health care workers.
The tax credit would cover health care costs of part-time employees, retirees and the self-employed. It also would refund 60 percent of health care costs paid by state and local governments.
Workers still would have to pay their portion of premiums to help cover health care costs, but companies that increased employee contributions would not qualify for the tax credit. Gephardt would subsidize the employee contribution for workers below or near the poverty line.
Gephardt also wants to subsidize two-thirds of the cost of COBRA health insurance for unemployed workers and expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program for uninsured low income children to their parents.
The former House Minority Leader called his proposal "Matt's plan" in honor of his son, who survived childhood cancer. He estimated the total cost of his proposal at $214 billion in 2005, $231 billion in 2006 and $247 billion in 2007.
Gephardt said he would repeal all the tax cut that President Bush signed into law two years ago. The law cut income tax rates, provided tax relief for married couples, increased the child credit and reduced the inheritance tax. Gephardt spokesman Erik Smith said the lawmaker is open to revisiting the marriage provision, the child credit and the inheritance portion.
The law created a new 10 percent rate for the first $6,000 of each person's income and reduced the top 39.6 percent rate to 35 percent. Most other rates dropped by 3 percentage points.
Republicans have already criticized Gephardt for promoting big government spending that won't stimulate the economy or create jobs.
Gephardt challenged Bush and his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination to come up with a health care plan that provides access to coverage for the 41 million uninsured Americans, stimulates the economy and creates jobs. Gephardt is the first presidential candidate to detail his health care plan, but several of his rivals in the nine-way Democratic primary race plan to unveil their ideas to expand coverage in coming weeks.
"Access to quality health care is the moral issue of our time," Gephardt said. "And claiming the moral high ground while others go untreated is something that only God can sort out."
Gephardt used much of his speech to assail Bush's economic and domestic record. He described Bush as indifferent to the needs of people across the country trying to make ends meet.
"The truth is, this is not just George Bush's failed economy, it's also George Bush's health care crisis in the crowded emergency rooms of this country, filled with families who can get health care nowhere else," he said. "How can he sleep?"