An unhealthy State of the Union

Health advocacy groups blast Bush's insurance proposals.

By Katharine Mieszkowski
Published January 24, 2007 8:01PM (EST)

Planned Parenthood, the National Organization for Women and a coalition of nurses and physicians associations scoffed at the healthcare proposals unveiled in President Bush's State of the Union speech last night.

The president proposed a tax deduction for health insurance, which he said would be like the current tax deduction for dependents. But advocates expressed skepticism that this scheme would really help the uninsured or underinsured get coverage. In an Op-Ed, Kim Gandy, president of NOW, wrote: "He [Bush] failed to mention the only real solution: universal health care. Instead, Bush proposes tax breaks and schemes that do little to help those most in need."

That sentiment was echoed by a coalition of physicians and nursing groups, including the New York State Nurses Association, California Nurses Association and Physicians for a National Health Plan. "Our members have long supported a 'single-payer' plan because it's the only proposal that will ensure affordable health care for all," said Tina Gerardi, interim director of the New York State Nurses Association. "Tax credits will not do this. The Bush plan encourages individuals to settle for low-quality insurance plans and is an incentive for employers to drop or reduce coverage for their workers." Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, concurred in a statement: "Tax deductions do little for most families. The president's plan would force many parents to choose between paying for health care or other family needs. We need to be more direct in dealing with the health care crisis, especially for the sake of our children."

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, took on a lesser noticed aspect of Bush's health proposal: his support for "association health plans" for small businesses. In a statement, she argued that such plans could actually reduce what procedures insurance covers, since such plans are not required to follow state mandates for coverage of contraception, cervical and breast cancer screening and treatment, infertility service and screening for sexually transmitted infections.

"Tonight's speech is proof-positive that the Bush administration continues to put politics above medicine when it comes to the health of women and families," Richards said. "Women and families need health care solutions. Seventeen million women need access to affordable family planning services. The U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy rate among the most developed countries in the world. We need health care plans that give women and couples access to birth control."

Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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