Experts fault both candidate’s health plans

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s health care plan would cost too much and create more regulation, while Republican John McCain’s plan would leave 60 million Americans without health insurance and reduce coverage, experts said on Tuesday.

Neither plan would fully fix the broken U.S. health care system, the separate teams of experts concluded in the journal Health Affairs.

Both candidates agree that major health care reform is needed, with 46 million Americans having no health insurance and studies showing that while the United States spends more per capita than any other industrialized country for health care, Americans are not any healthier.

A survey of benefits managers released on Tuesday showed wide disapproval of both plans, also.

"Rather than taxing workers’ health benefits and compelling employers to provide coverage they can’t afford, candidates should focus on initiatives to control costs and promote top quality care," James Klein, president of the American Benefits Council, which represents employer-sponsored health plans, said in a statement.

Joe Antos of the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, Gail Wilensky of Project HOPE and colleagues said Obama’s plan failed to address incentives that encourage tests and procedures that cost money but may not improve health.

Wilensky, an unpaid adviser to the McCain campaign, said the analysis reflected only her own views.

Obama has promised something resembling the Federal Employees Health Benefits program for most Americans.

The most popular of these, offered by Blue Cross and Blue Shield, costs about $12,000 a year, Wilensky’s team noted. The premiums from such a plan "would not be affordable for many families without subsidies that are even greater than the government’s current contributions," they wrote.

A cheaper $5,000-a year-plan available to mail handlers charges more in co-pays and deductibles, and offers fewer benefits, they said. It "is probably not what the candidate’s political base thinks he has promised," they wrote.

McCain’s plan would likely have little immediate effect on the number of people lacking health insurance and could eventually add 20 million more, said Thomas Buchmueller of the University of Michigan’s business school and colleagues.

It would give a refundable tax credit to people who buy coverage and encourage Americans to move to a national market for nongroup insurance, but this "will tend to raise costs, reduce the generosity of benefits, and leave people with fewer consumer protections," they wrote.

"Studies suggest that many employers would be quick to drop health benefits," they added.

The American Benefits Council survey found that managers want both candidates to focus more on controlling costs and improving the quality of health care.

It found that 74 percent of the 187 managers surveyed disapproved of McCain’s tax proposal while 46 percent disliked Obama’s plan to require employers to "pay or play."