ABC News’ Teddy Davis Reports: Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards is hoping to stand-out from rivals on health care by portraying the plan of rival Barack Obama as leaving 15 million uninsured and portraying Hillary Clinton as lacking the candor needed to get to universal coverage.
"Barack Obama’s plan leaves out 15 million people," said Edwards. "The truth is that some people will choose not to buy insurance even though it’s affordable, knowing that the rest of us will pay for their emergency room visits."
"But it is just as bad to say that everyone will have insurance without a plan to get there," he continued. "Hillary Clinton says her plan will cover everyone through a ‘mandate’ but does not provide even the most rudimentary idea much less a detailed plan of how this ‘mandate’ would work."
Like Clinton (and unlike Obama), Edwards’ health-care plan would require every American to have health insurance.
But unlike Clinton, Edwards is now detailing how he would enforce his mandate.
Under the Edwards plan, when Americans file their income taxes, they would be required to submit a letter from an insurance provider confirming coverage for themselves and their dependents.
If someone did not submit proof of coverage, the Internal Revenue Service would notify a newly established regional or state-based health-care agency (which Edwards has dubbed a Health Care Market).
Those regional agencies would then evaluate whether the uninsured individual was eligible for Medicare (which covers those over 65), Medicaid (which covers the indigent), or S-CHIP (the State Children’s Health Insurance Program which targets the working poor).
If the individual was not eligible for either of those existing public programs, the regional-health care agency would enroll the individual into the lowest cost health-care plan available in that area. The lowest-cost option could be a new Medicare-like public option or a private insurance plan.
The newly covered individual would not only have access to health benefits but would also be responsible for making monthly payments with the help of a tax credit.
The exact size of the financial obligation would vary according to a person’s income (lower-income Americans would receive larger tax credits).
If a person did not meet his or her monthly financial obligation for a set period of time (perhaps a year, perhaps longer) the Edwards plan would empower the federal government to garnish an individual’s wages for purposes of collecting "back premiums with interest and collection costs."
The process, according to the Edwards campaign, would resemble the process used to collect money from Americans who are delinquent on federal student loans or child support payments.
The Edwards campaign has not put a dollar figure on the amount that would be garnished from wages because the cost of the lowest-priced plan in that region could vary and is not yet known.
While raising the specter of wage garnishment could expose Edwards to the criticism that he favors a bigger, more intrusive government, he is hoping that Democrats will reward him for offering a plan that is bolder than Obama’s and more candid than Clinton’s.
"To get fundamental change in our health care system, we need a fundamental change in our politics," said Edwards. "That starts with being clear and direct about what we are going to do and how we are going to do it."