Bush offers preview of healthcare plan

WASHINGTON In a likely preview of Tuesday’s State of the Union Address, President Bush aired a proposal during his weekly Saturday radio show to extend health-insurance coverage without burdening restaurateurs or other employers.

The President proposed that the uninsured be coaxed to buy their own coverage with the incentive of being able to deduct the expense from their taxable income, as mortgage holders can presently do with the interest on their loan repayments. He also suggested that some employees who receive coverage as a benefit from their employer be taxed if the insurance exceeds a certain value, with the proceeds used to lower the price of insurance for lower-income families. Employer-provided health insurance is currently not taxed as compensation.

Bush is widely expected to propose the measure, perhaps with more detail, during his annual State of the Union Address. His remarks on Saturday came as a number of states are considering measures that would extend health insurance to the estimated 47 million Americans who lack coverage. Most of those proposals would require restaurateurs and other employers to foot at least part of the cost.

The industry has yet to respond to Bush’s proposal. The National Restaurant Association favors bringing down the cost of coverage through the formation of small business health plans, where employees of various companies across a number of states could pool their purchasing power to bring down the premium each person would pay. Such programs, sometimes known as association health plans, are presently forbidden under federal law, though such groups are permitted to function within a particular state.

The association and other trade groups oppose measures to extend health-insurance coverage by mandating it from employers. Employer mandates are currently pending in seven states, according to the NRA’s website, and proposals have yet to be formally introduced as bills in several other states, including California.

Among the other measures under consideration at the state level is a bill in Texas that would require applicants for publicly funded health care to cite their employers. The state would use that information to identify businesses with 50 or more employees that do not provide coverage. The initiative is widely seen as a way of pressing Wal-Mart to offer insurance to its staffers.