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Health insurance falling short

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"If a $3,000 deductible were a tax, it would be a very high one," says Patricia Schoeni, executive director of the National Coalition on Health Care. "People are going to figure this out, and when they do they're going to demand [that] Congress do something about the healthcare system."

While Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton made universal access to quality health insurance a cornerstone of her presidential campaign, the two presumed nominees, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain, propose less ambitious plans.

Both favor subsidies of a kind to help low-income Americans get access to healthcare, but otherwise their plans are ideological opposites. Senator Obama favors creating a national health plan similar to the one currently offered to members of Congress. It would be comprehensive, with a choice of plans, and individuals and small businesses could buy into it at affordable rates. No one could be denied coverage, even if their doctors had previously diagnosed a medical condition. Senator McCain favors instituting a federal tax credit to encourage individuals to buy their own insurance. Low-income individuals who don't pay much in taxes would get a subsidy. McCain's plan would not prevent companies from denying coverage or charging higher premiums to people with preexisting healthcare needs, as they do now.

The plans have something else in common: They will cost money.

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