Health care has taken a higher profile in the campaign in recent days and the candidates took the opportunity to get in their slams at each other's plans in person.
Obama pointed out — correctly — that McCain's plan would tax employer-provided health benefits for the first time in addition to providing the tax credits McCain is so fond of talking about. But in saying "what one hand giveth, the other hand taketh away," Obama suggested that most people would come out even at best. In fact, most people who currently have employer-provided insurance would be better off — at least at first — because the tax credits; $2,500 for an individual and $5,000 for families, would in most cases be larger than the tax bills for current benefits. (McCain was guilty of suggesting several times that everyone would get a $5,000 credit; that's not the case). Tax analysts have pointed out, however, that because the tax credit would increase more slowly than health insurance premiums, over time its buying power would decline, and more people would end up with a tax liability on their employer-provided coverage, assuming their employers still provide coverage. At least two independent studies have found that 20 million people would no longer have employer-provided coverage after 10 years if Sen. McCain's plan were to become law.
McCain, for his part, accused Obama of injecting more government into the health care system. "He's...said government will do this and government will do that and then government will — and he'll impose mandates. If you're a small business person, and you don't insure your employees, Senator Obama will fine you, will fine you. That's remarkable," said McCain. It's also not quite true. The smallest employers — those with fewer than 10 workers — would be totally exempt. Other small businesses would get significant tax credits to make that insurance more affordable.