Sen. William S. Cohen dismissed challenger Neil Rolde’s national health care proposal as just another wrinkle on “socialized medicine” systems that have proved illusionary in other countries.
During a meeting Monday with the Bangor Daily News Editorial Board, Cohen said he will introduce legislation in the Senate later this week that would restructure the current U.S. health care system, but do so in a manner that largely retains the existing combination of federal and private insurance company participation.
According to Cohen, his proposal would address the problem of individuals without employer health insurance coverage with tax credits and rebates. The bill would attack soaring health costs with initiatives such as requiring pre-litigation examinations of surgical patients. Such examinations, Cohen said, have proved successful at reducing the malpractice costs for Maine physicians and hospitals.
Rolde’s national health plan would eliminate the involvement of an estimated 1,500 insurance companies in public and private U.S. health insurance programs, replacing them with a “single-payer” system modeled on Canada’s national health plan. Rolde said that a Canadian-type system, while increasing taxes initially, would ultimately lower the overall health care costs of individuals and employers. At most, Rolde claimed, there would be no more than a 5-percent net increase in the cost of current U.S. health care programs, which do not cover 150,000 Mainers and 12 million individuals nationwide.
“Back in the early 1970s, Ted Kennedy tried to sell a similar socialized medicine plan modeled after the British system. Nobody is talking about the British system anymore,” Cohen said.
“When was the last time the federal government increased your taxes and gave you better, more efficient service?” he asked.
Canada’s federal health care system, Cohen said, is so drowned in debt that the Ottawa government is paying out more in interest payments on borrowed money than actual health care. One result, he said, are delays as long as six months for critical treatments such as heart surgery.
“The Canadian system works reasonably well for primary treatment. They have real problems with their specialized medicine. Their own media has described the system as being in a `crisis,’ ” Cohen said.
Were the United States to adopt the Canadian plan, Cohen said, Congress would have to raise between $242 billion and $320 billion in new federal revenues, a sum that would force up income taxes by at least 14 percent.
“That’s on top of an existing federal deficit of $150 to $250 billion,” Cohen said.
Since Rolde has made national health insurance the centerpiece of his campaign, the differing approaches likely will dominate the candidates’ upcoming debates.
“The notion that everybody should be covered is a good one … but the idea that higher federal taxes will solve all of our current health care problems is a dangerous one,” Cohen said.
He added, “If we say the federal government is going to take care of everything, some people will assume that health care is a free lunch. There are no free lunches.”
Cohen returned fire on another of Rolde’s campaign issues, a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit members of Congress to no more than 12 years of service. Cohen has served six years in the U.S. House of Representatives and 12 years to date in the Senate.
“Is Neil Rolde saying that Sen. Mitchell should step down in 1992. I don’t think Maine would be better represented in Washington if that happened. … Are Rolde and (Democratic House Candidate Patrick) McGowan saying that (Maine House Speaker) John Martin should retire?” Cohen asked. McGowan also is supporting the 12-year limit.
Cohen pointed out that Maine voters in the past have turned out powerful incumbent members of Congress — he cited former Sens. William D. Hathaway and Margaret Chase Smith as two examples — when they decided it was time for a change, without benefit of a constitutional amendment.
Recently returned from a four-day factfinding tour of the Middle East, Cohen chastised the Bush administration for selling weapons and advocating trade with Iraq up until one week before the invasion of Kuwait. He said he would ask the administration to continue to pressure the Soviet Union to remove its 5,000 to 6,000 advisers from Iraq, a step that Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev refused to take during last weekend’s Helsinki summit.