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Bush Wants Tax Change for US Health Insurance

U.S. President George Bush wants to change the way Americans pay for health insurance. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, it is one of the changes he called for in this week's State of the Union address.

President Bush wants to change the U.S. tax code to provide a standard deduction for health insurance.

That should help people who buy health insurance on their own instead of through their employer. The White House says it will also reduce the number of uninsured Americans by lowering their taxes and making it easier for them to afford insurance.

Speaking at a health center in the Midwest state of Missouri, President Bush said changing private health insurance is the way to make coverage more affordable for more people.

"Therein lies part of the debate we have in Washington. We believe the private sector is the best deliverer of health care," he said. "We know there is a role for the federal government, but it is not to dictate. It is not to be the decisionmaker."

The president says his plan will move Americans away from government-run health care toward a system in which he says there will be better access to basic, affordable private insurance.

The plan provides federal funding for states that help poor and hard-to-insure citizens afford private insurance. Mr. Bush says that allocates current federal funding more effectively, without creating a new federal entitlement or new spending.

"There is no question in my mind that a proper role for the federal government is to help the poor and the elderly and the diseased get health care. We will do that," he added.

Critics of the plan say the tax changes, if enacted, will encourage corporations to drop health insurance as a benefit because employees will have deductions for that coverage. The proposed deductions total $15,000 for a family and $7,500 for an individual.

Senior Bush administration officials acknowledge that may happen, but they say employers are already dropping coverage because of rising prices. They believe tax breaks will ultimately add to the total number of Americans insured by making coverage more affordable.