Responding to conservative claims that progressives would raise taxes on middle-class Americans like Samuel J. Wurzelbacher (a.k.a. ‘Joe the Plumber’) and undermine the success of small businesses, today’s Progress Report argues that a progressive tax policy is exactly how millions like ‘Joe the Plumber’ can realize the American Dream. The same is true for health care policy.
‘Joe the Plumber’ has himself experienced the consequences of rising health care costs. After St. Charles Mercy Hospital filed a lien against him in 2007 for $1,261, ‘Joe the Plumber’ joined a long-line of Americans who are squeezed by growing costs.
Nationally, costly illnesses trigger about half of all personal bankruptcies, and most of those who go bankrupt because of medical problems have health insurance. Total health care spending has doubled between 1996 and 2006, and without reform it is expected to double again in the coming decade.
But the change that Joe’s preferred candidate for President, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), offers would do very little to reduce Americans’ health care debt; in fact, it may add to it. Sure McCain speaks a good game about controlling health care costs, but his health care plan merely shifts the costs of insurance from the employer and the government to the individual. McCain controls cost by providing less care.
In McCain world, Joe is responsible for negotiating with a health insurance company and finding affordable coverage for himself or his children. Should he be lucky enough to find insurance in the individual market place (and only about 10 percent of applicants do), high deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses would bankrupt the plumber, should his family become sick and actually need care. Since McCain’s plan undermines existing consumer protections, the insurance company could exclude certain conditions from coverage, deny medical claims, and increase premiums. In time, McCain’s $5,000 health credit would depreciate in value, raising Joe’s taxes, and forcing him to pay more for his health insurance plan.
Unfortunately, since ‘Joe the Plumber’ is no ‘Joe Millionaire,’ McCain’s health care plan would do little to help him afford health insurance.