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Not Everyone Wants Health Coverage, and Shouldn't Be Forced to Have It, McCain Says

By Sasha Bartolf, CQ Staff

October 31, 2007 -- Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Wednesday that cost is not the reason many of the 47 million Americans without health insurance have not tried to get it; it's simply because they choose not to have it.

Many healthy people decide not to have insurance policies because they don't think they need it, and mandating health insurance for all Americans, therefore, is unnecessary, McCain said.

"I'm not going to force Americans to buy insurance," McCain said. "But if we bring down the cost, I'm convinced more and more will take advantage of it," he said. And since individuals with insurance are generally healthier, lower-cost coverage could even persuade those who have eschewed health insurance so far to sign up.

The Arizona Republican, speaking at a health care forum organized by the Federation of American Hospitals and Families USA, reiterated his belief that the government should not mandate health insurance for all Americans, but instead offer tax breaks that allow individuals, employees, and families to choose the health care plans they want from anywhere in the United States.

In what appeared to be a new stance, McCain said there is "no reason to remove employer tax incentives . . . . that should stay as it is." He proposes that individuals be given a tax break of $2,500 to invest in health care policies of their choosing, while families receive a tax break of $5,000.

When a moderator said premiums for family coverage now top $12,000 annually, McCain responded that his plan was "not a perfect solution;" however, for those currently getting no tax breaks for health care insurance, "something is better than nothing" at all.

McCain said he believes the biggest problem in American health care is not the quality, but the cost. He said he encourages allowing the government- and privately run sectors to compete to insure Americans, so that the consumer is guaranteed the best quality care for the lowest cost.

When asked whether he would favor health care plans such as New York Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton's, which allows people to keep their private plan or opt into a government-sponsored one, McCain said he doesn't think the government should sponsor health care for all Americans. While he favors maintaining a "safety-net" of coverage, such as what is provided to seniors or low-income Americans in Medicare and Medicaid, he said he does not believe that all Americans should be required to participate in government-sponsored health care.

McCain also defended his decision to vote against measures (HR 976, HR 3963) to reauthorize the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and the 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act (PL 108-173).

He said he could not support the 2003 law since it allowed prescription drug costs to be lowered for millionaires as well as low-income seniors. When questioned about his vote against legislation to reauthorize SCHIP, McCain said that he refuses to support a government-funded health care program that everyone is eligible for, rather than one that is targeted at those who truly need the help.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Democratic National Committee released a statement criticizing McCain's views on whether insurance companies should be forced to cover chronically ill people. McCain said he believes insurance companies should not be forced to take in chronically ill people; rather, the government should work to cover those who are unable to receive private insurance. He also recommends pouring resources into stem cell research and into preventative care, so that people are less likely to develop deadly or debilitating diseases.

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