BETHESDA, Md. — President Bush made a fresh pitch today for his proposals to curb rising healthcare costs and expand access to medical insurance, as he promoted tax-deferred health savings accounts and a new publicity campaign to encourage indigent families to enroll in Medicaid or a government-run children's insurance program.
Speaking to invited guests at the National Institutes of Health, he also praised the joint efforts of small businesses and individuals to work together to increase their purchasing power when shopping for insurance. Bush also vowed to continue supporting community health centers, which provide primary care to the needy.
Employing a favorite format, the president sat on a stool, microphone in hand, and shared the stage with five guests who discussed their experiences in a way that allowed Bush to drive home a point. The participants included small business owners and nonprofit executives whose employees have benefited from the personal health savings accounts, which were created in the Medicare prescription drug bill that the president signed more than a year ago.
The measure allows individuals to set aside pretax dollars to buy high-deductible insurance policies. Premiums for such "catastrophic" insurance policies are considerably lower than those for traditional health insurance plans, but policyholders must pay thousands of dollars each year in out-of-pocket costs before coverage kicks in.
One attraction is that unused funds in a health savings account can accumulate year after year. These accounts strongly appeal to the young and healthy, who generally have low medical bills. As a result, these accounts amount to a tax-free savings plan. Bush has set up such an account for himself.
"Hopefully, one of these days, when I get to be an old guy, my HSA will be bulging with money," he said with a chuckle.
Bush also has proposed giving each low-income family a $1,000 contribution, made directly to their health savings account, along with a $2,000 refundable tax credit to help purchase the policy. A family of four making $25,000 or less would be able to get the full $1,000 for each year that it remains eligible. Low income individuals could receive $300 annual contributions.
To further promote these accounts, Bush would give small business owners a tax credit on HSA contributions for the first $500 per employee with family coverage and the first $200 per worker with individual coverage.
In hopes of getting additional needy families to sign up for Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program, the president intends to use up to $1 billion that the states have not spent for that purpose over the years to finance a "Cover the Kids" drive. Although 5.8 million low-income children are enrolled, millions more are eligible for either Medicaid or SCHIP but are not enrolled.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) accused the Bush administration of inaction, saying "empty words cannot mask a four-year record of failure."
Bush will focus on healthcare issues again Thursday, traveling to Cleveland to promote modernizing medical record-keeping in hospitals and doctors offices.