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Edwards Pledges Different Health Care Tactics than Clinton

By Marie Horrigan, CQ Staff

September 24, 2007 – As an early proponent of universal health care coverage, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards on Monday found himself struggling to differentiate his plan from one released last week by New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the party's front-runner.

"I should be flattered, I guess," Edwards quipped Monday about the similarities of their proposals. "I think for America this is a good thing that we're having a debate about health care, universal health care, and the differences between the major candidates are fairly nuanced," he added.

Speaking at a health care forum in Washington, the former North Carolina senator found few differences between the policy agendas, but said he would take a vastly different tack from Clinton in working to implement his health care overhaul plan.

"Sen. Clinton appears to believe that ... you can take money from health insurance and drug company lobbyists and sit at the table with them and negotiate a compromise," Edwards said. "I absolutely reject that. That's a classic inside Washington way of thinking."

Instead, Edwards said a policy reformer should create buy-in among Americans by convincing them of "the rightness of the substance of what you want to do," he said. "And that's the way we drive through the entrenched interests of insurance companies and drug companies and lobbyists that are a huge obstacle for reform."

Though rejecting the roll of lobbyists and special interest groups in shaping policy, Edwards was speaking at a Kaiser Family Foundation forum sponsored by the Federation of American Hospitals and Families USA, two organizations that seek to influence the debate on U.S. health care policy. Other presidential candidates are scheduled to appear at the Kaiser Family Foundation over the next few months to discuss their health care plans.

Edwards said the goal of his plan is to create a system in which every American has health care coverage "from birth to death." Part of that policy would include expanded current programs for low-income families and children such as Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Congress is poised to pass a bill to expand SCHIP coverage, but President Bush has vowed to veto the legislation.

Edwards also said his plan would reduce the cost of prescription drugs, calling the 2003 bill to overhaul prescription drug coverage under Medicare (PL 108-173) a "complete give-away to drug companies." Clinton was one of 35 Democrats to vote against the bill.

Edwards said he supported giving the government the power to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices, establishing a system to safely re-import medication from Canada, and controlling drug company advertising on television to the extent that it is constitutionally sound.

Edwards, a former trial attorney, also pushed back against the notion that medical malpractice lawsuits were a significant factor in driving up the cost of health care." The reality is that the costs associated with legal cases are well under 1 percent of our health care system," he said.

He added that lawyers should have to prove that their medical malpractice cases have merit and that attorneys who file three frivolous cases should be barred from filing new ones. "This is something I know something about," he said with a laugh.

Edwards said he would offer a comprehensive health care proposal to Congress on the first or second day of his presidency.

"If I have submitted a universal health care plan to Congress I will never pull it. That will not happen. Not in my administration," Edwards said in an apparent attack on the Clinton administration, which in the face of massive opposition withdrew a health care overhaul policy created largely by then-first lady Clinton.

Three elements of his plan would be non-negotiable, Edwards said: it must be universal, it must establish equality of care, and it must reduce costs.

"I would not compromise on those," he said. "The exact mechanisms for accomplishing it? I would be willing to talk about it—with members of Congress. I would not be negotiating with drug and insurance companies and lobbyists."

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