Bush visits Ohio to boost state Republicans, push health savings accounts | VailDaily.com

Bush visits Ohio to boost state Republicans, push health savings accounts

DUBLIN, Ohio – President Bush mixed politics with his prescription for what ails the nation’s health care system on a trip Wednesday to Ohio, which was a pivotal state in his re-election and one with key races in this year’s midterm elections.The president made his case for health savings accounts at Wendy’s International Inc., where 9,000 employees have signed up for the accounts since the hamburger giant began offering them last year.”After more than five years of health care costs going at double-digit rates, Wendy’s overall health care costs rose only by 1 percent last year,” Bush said.”This has a positive effect on the individual employee. It’s had a positive effect on the income statement of the company. They work.”The visit to Ohio, one of a series of road trips Bush is making to underscore themes in his State of the Union address, had a political component too.The Ohio governor’s race and about a half-dozen House and Senate seats from the state are competitive in this year’s election, and whether voters stick with Republican incumbents could foreshadow voter sentiment in 2008.Republicans have controlled the Ohio governor’s office, the state legislature and most statewide elected positions for more than a decade. But Republican incumbents running for re-election are trying to avoid fallout from an election-year scandal in the state, which helped put Bush over the top in 2004.Outgoing Republican Gov. Bob Taft and two former aides have pleaded no contest to ethics charges in connection with the investigation of a coin dealer and GOP fundraiser hired to manage a state investment in rare coins. The coin dealer, Tom Noe, was charged Monday with embezzling at least $1 million. And Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, who is up for re-election, faces scrutiny in a wide-ranging congressional corruption investigation symbolized by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.”By anyone’s account, this year is an opportunity for Democrats to try to take advantage of a different climate,” said John McClelland, a spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party. “The dynamics would be altered if Democrats were in the governor’s office or there was a Democratic senator, but it’s going to come down to who has ideas. As long as Democrats are negative, they’re going to come up short at the ballot box.”Bush was joined at the event by Taft, George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio, and Reps. Pat Tiberi, David Hobson and Deborah Pryce. Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, who is in a toss-up race against Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown, was invited, but had a previously scheduled event.Brian Rothenberg, communications director for the Ohio Democratic Party, said Ohio was an odd place for Bush to push health savings accounts because the state recently has lost more than 200,000 manufacturing jobs, which often have comprehensive medical insurance benefits.”Try telling somebody who is underemployed, or working at Wendy’s, that they should put money in a health savings account,” he said. “That’s not a partisan issue. That’s a practical issue. … Why he would come to a place that’s bleeding jobs like Ohio and talk about health care is beyond me.”In pushing health savings accounts, Bush said people will become more responsible shoppers because they’ll pay more of the initial costs of their health care. But there’s a catch:To qualify, a person also must buy a separate health insurance policy with a high deductible. Such policies require individuals to pay the first $1,050 in medical expenses a year; families have to pay the first $2,100. Some policies carry higher deductibles.Bush wants to let consumers put enough money in their health savings accounts to cover all their health insurance costs, not just the deductibles, as provided by current law. This would allow them to set aside more money tax-free.But Democrats argue that the accounts don’t help those in need. They say it takes money to pay premiums on the high-deductible insurance policies, and that the working poor do not have extra money to set aside in the accounts.”Like the president’s misguided Social Security privatization proposal, his health care scheme just helps the healthy and wealthy, and leaves the rest of America behind,” Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said.The Bush administration, however, says that of the 3 million people who have taken up health savings accounts, 37 percent were previously uninsured and 40 percent earned less than $50,000 a year.Bush also acknowledged the rocky startup of the Medicare prescription drug benefit. He pledged to fix problems that forced dozens of states to step in to help pay buy medicine for poor beneficiaries who had trouble getting drugs and were charged above what they had paid under Medicaid.House and Senate Democrats, meanwhile, plan to hold a series of events nationwide next week to discuss the problems people are facing, and present Democratic proposals to improve the program.Vail, Colorado

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