Originally created 09/19/06

Governor hopefuls differ in health care strategies



ATLANTA - The differences between Gov. Sonny Perdue and Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor on health care show, as much as anything, how different they are in how they view problems.

Mr. Perdue tends to embrace ideas in the Republican mainstream, even though he was first elected as a Democrat. He championed "tort reform" legislation that limits how much patients can sue their doctors or hospitals for errors. He signed it into law because, he said, it would lower insurance premiums for health providers so they could pass along the savings to patients.

He signed a bill that allows insurance companies to offer plans that don't include mammograms or extensive mental-health coverage.

Mr. Perdue also aimed to save taxpayers money on health care by restricting the eligibility for PeachCare, a government program to cover poor children. He kicked off children whose parents were late paying. He shifted all the state's health plans - for employees, retirees and those covered under Medicaid and PeachCare - to an HMO-type management program.

Like a private health maintainence organization, the state's plans would channel medical decisions toward supposed cost-efficient options.

If Mr. Perdue's emphasis has been on cutting costs so more people can buy their own insurance, Mr. Taylor's has been on extending taxpayer-paid coverage.

His most ambitious proposal is to provide universal health coverage for all children, regardless of family income. Their parents would pay premiums based on income.

He estimates the cost at $100 million per year, though some budget experts predict it will be higher. Mr. Taylor, though, promises there would be no need for a tax increase for it or for any of his proposals.

He also wants to remove the sales tax on over-the-counter medicines. At the same time, he would allow anyone older than 55 or uninsured to participate in the state's employee-drug plan for just a $15 annual administrative fee.

"If folks who work for state government can buy their prescriptions for a lot less, why shouldn't you?" he said.

He promised members of AARP that he would find money to let more Medicaid recipients get long-term care at home instead of in nursing homes. Mr. Perdue told the group the federal government provides most of the money and has rules that limit home-care slots.

Mr. Taylor has criticized Mr. Perdue's handling of the shift in to a HMO-type plan for state coverage programs. He has repeatedly blasted the governor for dropping thousands of children from the PeachCare program.

Mr. Perdue favors higher co-pays and premiums for Medicaid, so-called cost sharing in which the patients pick up part of the increase in health-care costs.

Mr. Taylor opposes cost sharing.

With Medicaid taking 43 percent of the state budget and an aging population that will push that amount to 60 percent in five years without increasing benefits, younger taxpayers will have to pay what retirees don't.