Presidential campaign reps debate health care policy at UM

DIALOGUE: Rep. Michael C. Burgess of Texas speaks during a panel discussion on the future of healthcare. Burgess represented Sen. McCain in the debate while Nancy-Ann DeParle, a former director of the Health Care Financing Administration, represented Sen. Obama. Three professors and one student moderated. Photo courtesy UM Media.

Two representatives of the presidential campaigns debated healthcare policy Tuesday night in the Storer Auditorium at the University of Miami’s School of Business Administration.

The forum, entitled “Vision for a Better America,” was moderated by a panel of three professors and one student representative, with each member interrogating the surrogates on the implementation and implications of their candidate’s healthcare proposals.

Rep. Michael C. Burgess, a congressman from Texas and a senior adviser to Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, outlined the senator’s proposal to create a national market in which insurance companies would compete across state lines, minimizing cost to the company and resulting in greater affordability for the consumer.

“If a Dolphin player gets traded to another team he retains his healthcare benefits despite his move, but if a fan wants to follow the player to a new state, he isn’t covered,” Burgess said. “That’s because we give breaks to big companies. McCain’s plan would extend that [ability to shop around] to the little guy.”

Nancy-Ann DeParle, a former director of the Health Care Financing Administration and a senior adviser to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, stressed the right to equal coverage and advocated the extension of the federal employee’s health care plan to 47 million uninsured Americans.

“If you want to keep your existing coverage, you can. Senator Obama is proposing one national plan, similar to Medicare, which Americans can fall back on,” DeParle said. “No more than a few percentage points [of the total population] would choose this plan.”

After the panel discussion, President Donna E. Shalala selected members of the audience to question the surrogates.

“It seems to me that one of the pillars of McCain’s campaign is reducing costs to the insurers and assuming the savings will be passed down to the consumer, rather than the company just retaining the increased profit,” commented one student.

Burgess explained how incentives built into McCain’s policy reward good behavior on the part of the insurance company, assuring that companies are invested in their client’s well being. Another audience member questioned whether those insured by a Medicare advantage plan would retain their benefits, claiming that Obama said he would eliminate the program.

“He never said he would eliminate the program. A Medicare advantage plan is regulated by HMOs and those happy with their coverage can retain their plan,” DeParle said. “Obama would eliminate the 12 percent differential, an unnecessary expense that does not improve quality of coverage.”

Todd Landman, a 26-year-old medical student, said many of the acronyms and the nuances of funding went over his head but he believes that both candidates’ commitment to modernizing information technology could reduce health costs in the near future.

“Students see it today. I can access medical records online instead of searching through a library of medical files,” Landman said.

Despite their differences, Burgess and DeParle agreed that whichever candidate wins the election, he would make healthcare a top priority.