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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
Do not adjust your radio. This is not a tape from 1992, but health care reform is back as a big presidential issue. Today, President Bush traveled to Missouri to talk up his plan for the uninsured, a plan he unveiled in his State of the Union address. Meanwhile, the top two Democrats who want to replace him in 2008 - Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton - focused on health care in separate speeches in Washington.
Lots of talking, but as NPR's Julie Rovner reports, for now the debate is more about soundbites than specifics.
JULIE ROVNER: The problem of 47 million uninsured Americans has been mostly an afterthought for the Bush administration, but in recent weeks it's taken center stage. Today, the president toured Saint Luke's East Hospital outside Kansas City, where he touted his new plan, a restructuring of tax treatment of health insurance premiums.
GEORGE W: One way to encourage you to make the right decisions when it comes to health care is to take the inequities out of the tax code. If you work for a company, you pay - you get your healthcare free, in essence. It's part of the benefit package. If you're a standalone person, you pay your health care on an after-tax basis. In other words, there's discrimination in the tax code based upon who you work for.
ROVNER: The president says his goal is to make private health insurance more affordable for more people, rather than having the government take on more of the responsibility.
BUSH: A lot of times in Washington, they say, well, you know, let's just design it there in the federal government, it'll all work. It won't, in my judgment. It'll become bureaucratic, it'll become costly, it won't empower individuals. It'll make it harder to get affordable health care.
ROVNER: That's where Mr. Bush and Democrats largely disagree. Back in Washington, Illinois Democratic Senator Barack Obama was addressing the consumer health group Families USA. He was quick to criticize the president's plan.
BARACK OBAMA: The president's latest proposal that he announced this week has some elements that are interesting, but it basically does little to bring down costs or guarantee coverage. It falls into the category of tinkering and halfway measures.
ROVNER: Of course, Obama doesn't have his own plan yet. He said it's being drafted. But he did make this vow.
OBAMA: I'm absolutely determined that by the end of the first term of the next president, we should have universal health care in this country. There's no reason why we can't accomplish it.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
ROVNER: Meanwhile, just a couple of blocks away, Obama's presidential rival, New York Democratic Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, was addressing the U.S. Conference of Mayors and making pretty much the same vow.
HILLARY CLINTON: I believe we still need to make a commitment to universal health care.
ROVNER: Clinton too had unkind words for Mr. Bush's plan. Particularly the portion that would redistribute some $30 billion in funds that now goes to healthcare facilities that take care of the nation's poor and uninsured.
CLINTON: The problem is his proposal would be funded by taking money away from public hospitals and the healthcare safety net. You know, that is the robbing Peter to pay Paul that I just don't think makes sense.
ROVNER: But Clinton said she was glad at least to see the president engaged on the issue, while poking some fun at her own unhappy history with health reform.
CLINTON: I welcome his participation in the health care debate. I'm going to send him a suit of armor, because I know that anybody who puts a foot into the health care debate's going to need that.
ROVNER: In many ways, today feels like 1991, when the country was gearing up for the debate that would rage during President Bill Clinton's administration. Princeton University health economist Uwe Rinehart says he thinks the health care problem is even more serious now.
UWE RINEHART: Why? Health care since that time in cost has more than doubled. And secondly, the number of uninsured has grown and it's eating into the middle class.
ROVNER: But one thing hasn't changed when it comes to health reform - details matter and no one's showing them yet.
Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.
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