- Views & Opinions
Hillary Clinton has been involved in the nation’s health care debate for more than 20 years and, as her campaign likes to say, she has the scars to prove it.
The Democratic presidential candidate failed in her 1990s effort to steer her husband’s universal coverage program through Congress, as the complex plan collapsed for lack of political support. Since then, she has tacked sometimes to the right on health care, and sometimes to the left.
Clinton is campaigning as the candidate of continuity and would leave all major health care programs in place. She has a long list of tweaks and adjustments that reflect her familiarity with policy and would expand the government’s role in health care.
Donald Trump calls President Barack Obama’s health care law “a disaster,” and vows to repeal it. He’d provide a new tax deduction for health insurance premiums, but also limit federal support for Medicaid, which covers low-income people. An independent analysis recently estimated his seven-point plan would cause 20 million people to lose coverage.
Trump’s ideas on health care have shifted over time, and his latest plan hews to basic GOP talking points. He’s expressed a belief that an economically advanced country like the United States can’t have people “dying in the street” for lack of medical care.
Here is a summary of their proposals:
The government’s premier health insurance program covers about 57 million people, including 48 million seniors and 9 million disabled people under age 65. It enjoys strong support from voters across the political spectrum, although its long-term financial outlook is uncertain.
CLINTON: She would authorize Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, and she supports allowing patients to import lower-cost prescriptions from abroad. Medicare beneficiaries represent a big share of the market for medications.
Clinton would also allow people ages 55-64 to buy into Medicare, although her campaign has not released much detail on how that would work.
TRUMP: He promises not to cut Medicare, and has suggested that other Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan made a political mistake by calling for major changes. But it remains unclear how Trump’s proposed repeal of “Obamacare” would affect its improvements to Medicare benefits, including closing the prescription drug coverage gap known as the “doughnut hole.”
Earlier, Trump spoke approvingly of giving Medicare legal authority to negotiate prescription drug prices, but that idea currently is not mentioned in his health care plan. Instead, he also supports allowing drug importation.
The federal-state program for low-income individuals covers more than 70 million people, from pregnant women and children to elderly nursing home residents. Under Obama’s health care law, states can expand the program to include more low-income adults. Medicaid has sometimes carried a social stigma, but polls show the program has a solid base of public support.
CLINTON: She’d work to expand Medicaid in the 19 states that have yet to take advantage of the health law. She’s proposing three years of full federal funding for those states, the same deal given to states that embraced the law right away.
TRUMP: In 2015 Trump told an interviewer: “I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican. And I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid. Every other Republican’s going to cut.”
But his campaign plan would convert Medicaid into a block grant, ending the open-ended federal entitlement and capping funding from Washington. Over time, such an approach is likely to result in a big cut.
About 177 million people under age 65 have private health insurance, with nearly 9 in 10 getting their coverage through an employer. Rising out-of-pocket costs such as insurance deductibles and copayments are a sore point with consumers.
CLINTON: She has proposed a new tax credit of up to $5,000 per family, or $2,500 for an individual, for households that face “excessive” out-of-pocket costs. The credit would be refundable, meaning that people who don’t owe income tax could still get money back. An independent analysis of her plan defined “excessive” costs as exceeding 5 percent of household income.
Clinton would also require insurers to cover three sick visits to the doctor each year without patients needing first to meet their plan’s deductible, the annual amount patients pay before their insurance kicks in.
TRUMP: He has no similar proposals on out-of-pocket expenses but has called for requiring hospitals, clinics and doctors to disclose prices so patients can shop around to reduce costs. And he would expand the use of tax-sheltered health savings accounts, used to pay for medical expenses not covered by insurance.
More than half of U.S. adults take prescription drugs, and according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll most of those patients report no major problems affording their own medications.
But consumers have been alarmed by the introduction of breakthrough drugs costing tens of thousands of dollars a year, along with a spate of seemingly random price hikes for older medications. More than 3 out of 4 say the cost of prescription drugs is unreasonable. A majority favors government action to curb costs.
CLINTON: She has several proposals, including a new government board with the power to penalize drug companies for “unjustified, outlier price increases,” a monthly limit of $250 on patients’ copayments for prescription drugs, lowering the period of protection from generic competition for biologic drugs from 12 years to 7 years, and requiring drug companies to provide rebates for medications used by low-income Medicare recipients.
Those ideas are on top of Medicare negotiations and allowing patients to import lower-cost prescription drugs from abroad.
TRUMP: In addition to backing drug importation, he also has called on Congress to remove barriers to competition from lower-price, equally effective medications.
The 2010 Affordable Care Act expanded coverage for the uninsured and made carrying health insurance a legal obligation for most people. It offers subsidized private insurance for people who don’t have access to a job-based plan, along with a state option to expand Medicaid.
About 11 million people are covered through the law’s private insurance markets, while the Medicaid expansion has added at least 9 million to that program. It’s unclear if all those people were previously uninsured, but experts say the law deserves most of the credit for 21 million gaining coverage since its passage. Americans, however, remain deeply divided over “Obamacare.”
CLINTON: She wants to strengthen Obama’s signature law. Clinton would resolve a “family glitch” that denies health insurance subsidies to some dependents, sweeten subsidies for people buying coverage on the health law’s markets, and offer a new government-sponsored insurance plan to compete with private companies.
Her proposals would expand coverage to about 9 million more uninsured people, according to a recent study by the Commonwealth Fund and the RAND Corporation.
But Clinton would repeal the law’s tax on high-cost insurance, known as the “Cadillac Tax.” Many economists are critical, saying repeal of the tax would eliminate a brake on costs.
TRUMP: He would completely repeal the 2010 law and start over again. Trump has proposed a tax deduction for health insurance premiums, and also allowing insurers to sell policies across state lines, a longstanding GOP idea.
Critics say a deduction, usually claimed after the end of the tax year, wouldn’t do much to help lower-income people squeezed to pay premiums.
And the idea of selling across state lines has been opposed in the past by state insurance commissioners and attorneys general, who warned that it would undercut consumer protections. The insurance industry is divided, with smaller companies fearing it would favor major insurers.