LAS VEGAS, March 24, 2007 -- Seven Democratic presidential candidates appearing here at a healthcare forum were long on promise but short on specifics for how they would reform healthcare.
All propose universal care, health insurance for all Americans, but so far only former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., has outlined a specific plan that would include raising taxes for the wealthiest so all Americans could be insured. Forty-seven million Americans have no health insurance.
Edwards has drawn particular interest to the issue since announcing two days ago that his wife Elizabeth has had a recurrence of breast cancer, which has spread to her ribs.
"One of the reasons I want to be president is to make sure every woman and every person in America gets the same things that we have," Edwards said to several hundred employees of the Service Employees International Union on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Edwards was followed by Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and former Sen. Mike Gravel, D-Alaska.
Candidates of both parties were invited, but only the Democrats accepted. Following the war in Iraq, the economy and healthcare are the issues that interest Democratic voters the most, and healthcare is the one the politicians can do the most about.
"It's a really big issue," said Courtney Errington, a property manager. "I've been a person who had to make a decision about whether I could provide health care to my family even though I supposedly was making a living wage."
Richardson said he could deliver a new national healthcare system in one year, and Sen. Obama said he could do it by the end of his first term, but neither offered a specific plan for how to do it, or pay for it.
Clinton said, "We're all going to have a plan, that's not in doubt. We need a movement; we need people to make this the number-one voting issue in the '08 election."
The candidates were in agreement on several points:
Providing care for all Americans regardless of ability to pay.
Providing care regardless of pre-existing medical conditions.
Saving money by switching to an electronic record-keeping system.
Concentrating on wellness rather than catastrophic care.
"We ought to be doing a far better job making it possible for people not to become ill," Dodd said.
Some union workers who attended said they were disappointed by the lack of specifics coming from the candidates.
"I thought they would be more prepared," said Annie McDonald, attending with her husband.
Robert Blendon, a professor at the Harvard University School of Public Health, said it is not surprising that the candidates are still a little sketchy at this early stage because healthcare is one of the electrified issues of politics.
"I think they're afraid of having proposals early on and just being attacked over and over while they're trying to get the voters to know them as people, know their broader views and concerns and not focus on one aspect of a proposal or another," Blendon said.