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Presidential Candidates Talk Health Care

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Presidential Candidates Talk Health Care

Politics

Presidential Candidates Talk Health Care

Presidential Candidates Talk Health Care

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Seven presidential candidates visit Las Vegas to take part in a health-care forum sponsored by the Service Employees International Union. All of the hopefuls in attendance were Democrats, though all candidates were invited.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Seven candidates, six health plans and enough references to cost containment and risk pools to make your head spin. That's how NPR's Ina Jaffe started her day in Las Vegas, at a forum on health care sponsored by the Service Employees International Union and the Center For American Progress. All the presidential hopefuls were invited. Only the Democrats showed up.

Ina, seven candidates but six plans. Which of the Democratic hopefuls didn't come with a proposal?

INA JAFFE: Well, that would be Senator Barack Obama, and he asked for patience. He said that he would have a detailed health plan in a couple of months but that his campaign had really only been on full gear for about eight weeks and he asked people to just give him some time to get it together.

The others who did present, in some cases fairly detailed plans, were Senators John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and Chris Dodd, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, and former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel.

ELLIOTT: Now, were these plans really all that different?

JAFFE: Well, Dennis Kucinich was the only one who advocated a nonprofit single-payer Canadian-style health plan. Other than that, they had a lot of things in common in terms of both the individual's responsibility and the employer's responsibility and helping people who couldn't afford to buy insurance do so. But the main thing that they all said, that what was really necessary was political will. And Hillary Clinton had something to say about that.

Senator HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (Democrat, New York): What we need to do is to make a commitment. And I'm proud that everyone running on the Democratic side is committed to universal health care coverage.

ELLIOTT: But Ina, the last time Hillary Clinton tackled this issue, as first lady, the effort collapsed.

JAFFE: Well, that's true, but what everyone said today was that things have changed significantly since that time, that the cost of health care has roughly doubled. And the other thing that they said was that it's become not only a moral issue, with the 47 million people who have no health coverage, but it's become an economic issue for the entire country, that American businesses are the only ones that are bearing the full burden of seeing that their employees are covered when - and when they compete in the global economy, that's not true of their competitors. And some new way has to be found to take care of this.

ELLIOTT: What kind of impression would you say that the candidates made on this labor audience?

JAFFE: Well, the first person who spoke was Senator John Edwards, and he was received very warmly. Now, he might have been in any case because he has very close ties with the unions and with the Service Employees International Union, who was a co-sponsor of this event, in particular.

But with the announcement that they made just the other day that his wife, Elizabeth, has had a recurrence of her cancer, people were especially warm towards him. And nearly all the other candidates who spoke, right at the beginning, said that they had great admiration and sympathy and respect for the Edwards and what they're going through.

The rock star of the morning, I would have to say, would be Senator Hillary Clinton. She was very energized, very upbeat, very prepared. And she was greeted not only with warm applause but with cheers from many in the audience.

And New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson had one of the more interesting proposals of the afternoon. He suggested that veterans shouldn't have to travel long distances to veterans administration facilities to get health care, that in his plan they'd be able to get it close to home, anywhere they wanted, and with all that's been in the news lately about Walter Reed and the problems that veterans are having at getting health care now, that was a very, very enthusiastically received suggestion.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Ina Jaffe in Las Vegas. Thank you.

JAFFE: You're welcome.

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