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Presidential Politics: More on the McCain Healthcare Reform Plan

Written by on Thursday, May 1st, 2008

McCain set out more details this week on his healthcare reform plan; while the plan contains some new features, it falls short of providing any comprehensive plan that would really resolve the country’s healthcare woes.

Marketwatch reported on McCain’s plan as follows:

McCain espouses some ideas that have broad bipartisan appeal: the use of generic drugs; incentive pay for doctors and hospitals that achieve good health results; and electronic medical records to reduce wasteful spending. But several of his proposals, such as changes in the tax treatment of employer-sponsored coverage, raise more questions than he seems prepared to answer. . . .

Tax credits that encourage the purchase of individual health insurance form the centerpiece of McCain’s health plan, and would be a dramatic departure from the way health insurance is distributed today. . . . McCain proposes to give refundable tax credits of $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families to offset the cost of coverage in exchange for eliminating tax breaks that employees and employers currently have. If you get your coverage through a job, gone would be the tax exclusion that allows your premium dollars to come out of your pretax pay. He argues that would level the playing field for people who don’t get their insurance through work while preserving choice — you could take that money and keep your employer plan or use it to buy one on the individual market. . . .McCain also wants to allow people to buy health insurance across state lines. . . .

[H]e wants to create a Guaranteed Access Plan “that would reflect the best experience of the states” and function as a health insurer of last resort, kind of like the high-risk pools 30 states have set up.

While some of McCain’s plans make sense such as the idea of being able to carry insurance across borders and having a Guaranteed Access Plan, his focus on encouraging individual plans fails to address the issue of how people with minor health problems will get coverage as individuals.  The reality is that many Americans would have no other option but to go with the Guaranteed Access Plan: how exactly would the U.S. fund such a plan?  Obviously, if businesses no longer receive tax benefits for the payment of premiums, it will become increasingly difficult for such business to justify offering their employees such benefits.

Another problem: how would insurance across state lines be regulated?  I am completely in favor of the idea, as I had terrific insurance when I lived out of state and was sorry to lose it when I moved to California; however, in a multi-state model, it seems likely that a new federal entity will be needed to provide oversight over the regulation of insurance in all of the states.

All in all, while Americans should be happy to see that McCain has a health care reform plan, they may be disappointed to see that his plan has no groundbreaking solutions–certainly none that will resolve the current system’s problems.  Is this really a surprise though?  Unfortunately,  we remain a long way from electing anyone who can really  resolve all of health care’s problems.

Attached is a copy of McCain’s speech on healthcare in full.

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Presidential Politics: What is the McCain Plan for Healthcare Reform?

Written by on Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

With all the talk by the candidates of reforming healthcare this political season, it is interesting to consider the impact that a win by each candidate will have on the biotech industry.  As this race unfolds, the California Biotech Law Blog intends to follow the positions of the candidates that may have an impact on the industry. 

Robert Goldberg wrote an interesting column this week for Drugwonks and The Weekly Standard  looking at the John McCain healthcare plan, which has received little if any attention by the media.  Goldberg first addresses the plans proposed by the Democratic presidential candidates.   In contrast to McCain, who views the current Veteran’s Health Administration ("VA") as being severely broken, Goldberg explains that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton view the VA is the "starting point for the Democratic plans for universal health care."

Goldberg writes:

Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama want to expand the VA’s electronic health care system to the rest of the country. Obama has promised to spend $50 billion on electronic health records based on the VA model. And Clinton likes to claim credit for that model, which she calls an astounding success. . . .

In fact, as a government audit discovered, the VA’s paperless system has created a huge bottleneck, losing track of 53,000 veterans.. . . according to internal VA audits, 25 percent of all vets wait more than 30 days for their first exam. Of the veterans kept waiting, 27 percent had serious service-connected disabilities, including amputations and chronic problems such as frequent panic attacks. Iraq war vets often have to wait six months for their first appointment. In some VA hospitals, vets wait 18 months for surgeries–a record worse than Canada’s or England’s national health care systems. The VA’s budget for its health care system has doubled since 2001. . . .

In contrast, Goldberg says that the McCain plan "boil[s] down to freedom of choice," explaining as follows:

McCain’s plan is based around patient-centered initiatives that already have broad support among Republicans in Congress. They include letting people buy health insurance nationally instead of only from state-regulated firms; giving people the choice of purchasing coverage through cooperatives or other organizations (churches or civic groups, for example); expanding health savings accounts; and making health insurance portable by giving people tax credits of up to $5,000 per family to buy their own coverage instead of getting it through an employer.

His chief concern is for people to take ownership of their health care. McCain likes to note that "Ronald Reagan said nobody ever washed a rental car. And that’s true in health insurance. If they’re responsible for it, then they will take more care of it." At the heart of McCain’s proposals is his effort to allow veterans, particularly soldiers returning from Iraq with traumatic brain injury and mental illness, to get care anywhere rather than just through the Veterans Health Administration (VA). . . .

It is likely that the McCain’s plan will receive additional scrutiny down the road, as healthcare is likely to continue to play a key role in the election.  However, Goldberg gives us a first glimpse of the McCain position on healthcare reform.  There is little doubt that the candidates have a very different perspective on what that reform might look like. 

But how might the McCain view affect the biotech industry?  Well, all in all, I would argue that the biotech industry would most benefit from the McCain position, since ownership of health care would likely lead patients to pursue the best available treatments, to the extent that they can afford them.  In contrast, the Obama and Clinton positions would increase health care availability for the population as a whole, but would likely limit options and treatment availability and potentially even limit the profitability of the biotech industry as a whole.

The California Biotech Law Blog will continue to look at these issues as further information about the candidates’ positions is revealed.   We welcome comments on these issues from our readers.  What do you think: how would the candidates’ positions on healthcare reform likely affect the biotech industry as a whole?

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Stem Cell Companies Looking Ahead to New Administration

Written by on Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

Stem cell biotech companies are looking forward to the next presidential administration, reports CNN MoneyAll three of the leading presidential candidates–Senator John McCain, Senator Barack Obama, and Senator Hillary Clinton–have expressed a more tolerant view toward stem cell research than has the current President Bush. 

CNN Money reported:

Bush has twice vetoed legislative attempts to expand the funding, including those backed by McCain, Clinton and Obama. In reference to Bush’s policies, Obama has said, "Stymieing embryonic stem cell research is a step in the wrong direction." Clinton has called for funding for "additional cell lines in order to pursue the promising avenues for research." McCain has said "stem cell research has the potential to give us a better understanding of deadly diseases and spinal cord injuries affecting millions of Americans."

Following his second veto in 2007, Bush said the legislation "would compel American taxpayers – for the first time in our history – to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos." Instead, the president touted the therapeutic potential of stem cells taken from adult tissue.

Given the support by President Bush of the concept of taking taking stem cells from adult tissue and umbilical cords, the companies that have utilized this methodology such as Aastrom, Cytori Therapeutics , Stemcell, and Osiris Therapeutics have been somewhat shielded by the ongoing controversy, reported CNN Money. In contrast, the companies using the methodology of deriving stem cells from human embryos such as Geron, Advanced Cell Technology, Novocell and Neuralstem have found themselves right in the middle.

CNN Money predicts, however, that the new administration will benefit all of these companies, regardless of the methodology used, since investors will have a more positive view about the political climate for these companies and the funding is likely to be made available to them. 

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