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Bush Touts Health Savings Accounts

President Bush participates in a panel on health savings accounts in Bridgeport, Conn. Wednesday, April 5, 2006. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
President Bush, speaking in a state where the GOP faces two tough midterm races, rallied support on Wednesday for expanding health savings accounts — an idea that congressional Republicans rebuffed last month.

"I urge the Congress to look at ways to strengthen health savings accounts," Mr. Bush said in a state with 400,000 residents who have no health insurance. "I'm looking forward to continuing to have a consumer-driven system to be the heart of American health care."

These accounts let people who have high-deductible health insurance policies save money, tax-free, for their future health care expenses. Mr. Bush thinks consumers should be able to put enough money in the accounts to cover all their health insurance costs, not just the deductibles, as they can now. He wants them to be portable to protect workers when they change jobs.

Mr. Bush rejects critics' complaints that deductibles and fees are too expensive for many people, CBS News White House correspondent Peter Maer reports.

"A lot of health savings account owners are people without an extraordinary income. It defies the concept that certain people can't make decisions on their own," the president said.

However, the Senate's top tax writer, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has cast doubt that lawmakers can enact Mr. Bush's proposals to expand health savings accounts during this election year.

Mr. Bush spoke in the home district of Rep. Christopher Shays, who is being opposed by Democrat Diane Farrell in a tight race that's being monitored by both national parties.

"He is an independent fellow, who speaks his mind, but he does so in a way that gets people to listen to him," Mr. Bush said of Shays, who accompanied the president here aboard Air Force One. "I'm looking forward to hearing your lecture on the way back to Washington."

At the airport in New Haven, Mr. Bush was greeted by the state's popular governor, M. Jodi Rell, whose high approval ratings far exceed Mr. Bush's. Rell is expected to be re-elected in November. But Rep. Nancy Johnson faces a difficult race against state Sen. Chris Murphy — another matchup that national political analysts are watching as the GOP strives to retain control of Congress.

On the way to the health care event, Mr. Bush's motorcade passed about 150 noisy protesters holding signs that read: "Bush and Shays, the war is wrong," "Fire the Liar" and "Bring the troops home now."

Inside, Mr. Bush didn't mention the war, concentrating instead on his various health care initiatives, particularly health savings accounts.

Such accounts allow people to set aside more money tax-free, but to qualify, a person must also purchase a health insurance policy with a high deductible. Such high-deductible policies require individuals to pay for at least the first $1,050 in medical expenses each year; families have to pay the first $2,100.

Mr. Bush said the accounts can help small businesses continue to offer health care coverage despite rising health care costs, and give young people a way to afford coverage.

"Health savings accounts address one of the major cost-drivers in our system, and that is, a lot of people get health care, but somebody else pays the bill," Mr. Bush said. "When somebody else pays the bill, sometimes you don't pay attention to the cost."