Richardson Calls For Universal Health Care, Offers Plan Estimated Around $100B - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Richardson Calls For Universal Health Care, Offers Plan Estimated Around $100B

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson on Tuesday called for universal health care, offering a plan that would expand preventive coverage to help offset a package costing more than $100 billion.

The New Mexico governor said he could provide coverage to the 45 million uninsured without raising taxes. Instead, Richardson said preventive care would save the nation billions of dollars and additional money could be diverted from spending on the Iraq war.

"Universal health care is not only a moral imperative, it is also an economic imperative," said Richardson.

Building on the existing health care system, Richardson's plan would lower the age at which Medicare provides coverage to 55, expand health services for the low income and give tax breaks to businesses and individuals who pay for their health coverage.

"My plan does not build a new bureaucracy. The last thing we need between patients and doctors is another sticky web of red tape," Richardson said in a written statement. He planned to unveil the plan at a campaign event in Iowa.

Richardson estimated that his health care plan would cost between $104 billion to $110 billion a year.

Features of Richardson's health care plan include:

- Lowering the eligibility age for Medicare, which provides health coverage for the elderly, to 55. He would also expand government health programs for the poor and for children. Young people could stay on their parent's insurance plan until they turn 25, under his proposal.

- Giving veterans a card allowing them to get health benefits at the facility of their choice.

- Requiring that insurance companies not deny coverage due to pre-existing conditions, and mandating that they spend at least 85 percent of their premiums on health services.

- Increasing the use of technology to increase the efficiency of the health care system.

- Enacting new incentives for preventative health care programs.

- Allowing government health programs to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to get the best price on prescription drugs. His plan also would expand the use of generic drugs.

- Approving new tax breaks for individuals and businesses that pay for their own coverage.

Richardson's plan comes after some of his leading Democratic rivals have already detailed their proposals to provide universal coverage.

John Edwards would require all Americans to have health care coverage and all employers to provide it. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama does not have the individual mandate, but like Edwards, he would help those who can't afford health coverage pay for it. Both Edwards and Obama said they would largely pay for their plans by ending President Bush's tax cuts on the wealthy.

Edwards said his plan would cost $90 billion to $120 billion annually. The Obama campaign would not provide the total figure for his.

Hillary Rodham Clinton also has said she will have a universal health care plan, but has yet to explain how it would work.

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