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Obama unveils US healthcare plan

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has unveiled his long-awaited healthcare plan

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has unveiled his long-awaited healthcare plan, promising coverage for the nearly 45m Americans who are currently uninsured and substantial reductions in the cost of premiums for everyone else.

Speaking at the University of Iowa in Iowa City this week, Obama took drug firms and insurance companies to task, saying they have "spent more than USD 1bn on lobbying and campaign contributions over the last ten years to block the kind of reform we needÖpreventing the sale of cheaper prescription drugs and defeating attempts to make it harder for insurance companies to deny coverage on the basis of a preexisting condition."

While he said he valued ìthe medical cures and innovations that the pharmaceutical industry has developed over the years,î he also charged that pharma companies drive up the cost of healthcare when they ìpush expensive products on doctors by showering them with gifts (and) spend more to market and advertise their drugs than to research and develop them.î He said he would work to ìbreak the strangleholdî of the branded drug industry through reforms including increasing access to generic drugs.

Obamaís proposal for universal healthcare takes a page from the playbook of his chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Hillary Clinton, who tried and failed to institute a universal healthcare plan as first lady in the early 1990s, and has made the idea a theme of her presidential bid as well. Alluding toClintonís failed attempt, Obama acknowledged that the concept had met with strong resistance in the past, but stressed that the political climate is much different now.

Under Obamaís proposal, all but the very smallest employers would be required to provide health insurance to their workers or to pay the government to provide the insurance. However, the government would aid employers by reimbursing them for catastrophic health expenditures related to an individual sick worker, to help keep one very ill employee from pushing a companyís insurance expenditures to unmanageable heights.

The proposal would also allow all Americans, regardless of any pre-existing medical conditions or illnesses, to buy into ìa new health insurance plan that's similar to the one that every federal employee ñ from a postal worker in Iowa to a Congressman in Washington ñ currently has for themselves,î Obama said.

The insurance would cover standard medical services as well as preventive care, maternity care, disease management, and mental health care. People who could not afford to buy into the system would be given a government subsidy, Obama said, and people who prefer to buy private plans would still be permitted to do so.

Families who already have health insurance could expect to save as much as USD 2,500 annually on their premiums due to reforms that would help remove ìwaste and inefficiencyî from the system, he said. Such reforms include increased use of generic drugs, a new focus on preventative healthcare and a change from paper to electronic medical records.

Obama said his ambitious healthcare plan would be paid for by discontinuing tax cuts instituted by President Bush for Americans who earn more than USD 250,000 a year.

31st May 2007

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