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Kerry Sees Link Between Health Costs, Job Woes

The Democratic hopeful, criticizing Bush, points to a study that shows some employers cut positions to save on insurance.

August 20, 2004|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

DERRY, N.H. — Sen. John F. Kerry assailed President Bush on Thursday for the state of the nation's healthcare, saying that spiraling healthcare costs had slowed the growth of jobs.

To support his charge, the Democratic presidential candidate cited a study he commissioned that found some employers that offered extensive healthcare plans had cut full-time jobs to save insurance costs. With the study, Kerry sought to link two of the campaign's key domestic issues -- the job market and healthcare.

"It doesn't take four years to understand that people are getting crunched by the cost of healthcare," he said at a gathering outside a Colonial home in a neighborhood here.

According to the study by Laura D'Andrea Tyson, President Clinton's onetime top economic advisor who now is dean of the London Business School, and UCLA professor Sarah Reber, U.S. industries with the best health benefits reported significant job losses between 2000 and 2002.

Tyson and Reber said rising healthcare premiums caused these employers to scale back their hiring.

"Many have begun hiring more part-time employees and temporary employees, without any benefits, who often don't get health insurance at all," Kerry said during a speech in Boston shortly before his appearance in Derry. "You tell me: Is that the kind of economy we're trying to build? An economy where Americans need to go downward in order to compete?"

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, responding for the Bush campaign, said a new Medicare law Bush supported that phased in prescription drug benefits would make healthcare more affordable. Frist also said that the healthcare plan Kerry proposed would not reduce expenses.

"Instead, my colleague would shift the lion's share of the cost to the American taxpayers and place restrictive mandates on employers, further limiting their potential for growth and ability to compete," Frist said.

Kerry said his plan would make healthcare more affordable by having the federal government cover 75% of the cost of catastrophic cases -- those in which costs exceeded $50,000 a year. The Massachusetts senator said that would save families about $1,000 a year.

He also would provide tax credits for healthcare costs to small businesses, adults ages 55 to 64 and low- to middle-income workers who joined the insurance plan used by members of Congress.

During his hourlong appearance in Derry, at the home of Tom and Lorraine Tautfest, Kerry discussed health insurance problems with the crowd of about 100 people gathered on the lawn.

"How many of you have had your premiums go up and your co-pays go up and your deductibles go up?" he asked them, prompting nearly everyone to raise their hands.

"And how many of you have seen your benefits actually go down, even as that happens? Am I dumb or something -- but is that not a very good equation?"

Kerry mocked Bush's comment this week that the administration was evaluating whether to lift the ban on the importation of lower-priced prescription drugs from Canada.

"He can't even make up his mind about importing drugs from Canada," Kerry said.

Bedford resident Thomas Dunseath Maher told Kerry that his wife had died Monday after a two-year battle with cancer.

Maher bitterly recounted his struggle with the healthcare system, saying that because he had retired early, the only insurance available charged him a $10,000 annual premium.

With just one of his wife's medications costing $1,750 a month, Maher said he spent more than $25,000 a year on healthcare.

While Maher could afford the cost, he said others could not.

"The people that provide your services -- the hairdressers, the manicurists, the people that fix your car, who paint or clean your house, or do all those other things -- they all have families. Most of the parents are working, and they don't have healthcare," Maher said. "And it's not just bad; it's immoral."

"I don't blame you for being mad as hell," Kerry responded. "I'm very sympathetic to what you've said, because I've heard your story all over our country."

Kerry added: "I don't understand how you could be at the White House for four years and not be bringing people to the table, struggling to respond to this, folks. I don't really get that."

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