BUSH TRIMS $17 BILLION FROM PLAN TO COVER UNINSURED

While Democratic presidential candidates showcase their plans to widen coverage of the uninsured, the coverage plan developed by the Bush administration  rated only a single sentence in a fiscal 2005 budget briefing this afternoon by HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson. Thompson said in response to a question that the plan proposed by Bush  would cost $72 billion over 10 years. That’s $17 billion less than the administration’s estimate last year for the proposal, which would offer tax credits worth $1,000 for low-income individuals and $3,000 for low-income families. An administration official said last week that eligibility for the credits would be the same as in last year’s plan.

Thompson estimated that this year’s proposal would cover 4.5 million uninsured Americans. Thompson didn’t explain why the plan costs less. And he asserted that the lower price tag didn’t necessarily mean that fewer uninsured Americans would gain coverage, but didn’t explain his reasoning. The lower price tag was one of a number of budget decisions reflecting belt-tightening by the administration (see next story), which projects a deficit of $520 billion this year, in pursuit of its goal of halving the yearly deficit to $260 billion over a five-period.