CARRBORO - Elizabeth Edwards called presidential candidate Sen. John McCain's proposed health care plan "truly dangerous to our health-care system" at a round table discussion Wednesday.
Her comments were accompanied by a report asserting roughly 610,000 North Carolinians would lose employer-sponsored health insurance under McCain's plan.
The report was written by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a self-described progressive Washington think tank, where Edwards is a senior fellow. It is supported by Change to Win, a coalition of U.S. labor unions formed in 2005 that is backing presidential candidate Barack Obama.
The report says McCain's proposal to eliminate employer health-care tax benefits would cause many small businesses to drop group insurance. It also suggests insurance companies would cover only individuals without expensive health problems and would be able to avoid state regulations intended to ensure a higher standard of coverage.
Edwards led a discussion at Piedmont Health Services Carrboro Community Health Center, where more than half the patients lack insurance.
State Rep. Verla Insko, a Chapel Hill Democrat; State Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, an Orange County Democrat; Carl Taylor, Piedmont Health Services' pharmacy director; David Tempest, lead provider at the Moncure Community Health Center; and Ida Fikes, a user of the center's services, joined Edwards at the table.
Tempest said he is treating a lot of patients at the center's Moncure clinic who have lost their health insurance, particularly middle-aged women.
"These folks look like deer in a headlight, because they've never been without insurance," Tempest said.
The participants avoided discussing Obama's health plan, saying they did not want to risk the health center's nonprofit status by endorsing one candidate or the other.
The North Carolina McCain campaign referred questions to Zane Walsh, a Fayetteville physician who treats many patients disabled by injury who qualify for Medicare or Medicaid insurance.
He called McCain's proposals reasonable and said they would help people take their insurance from job to job.
Edwards, who has incurable breast cancer, said private health insurance for her family, taking her cancer into account, would cost $24,000 a year, according to one Internet health insurance calculator.
Edwards said medical scans this week showed no signs that her condition has worsened since she learned early last year that it had spread to her bones.
"She is a walking example for the problems of the McCain plan," said Jonathan Oberlander, associate professor of social medicine and health policy and administration at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Someone very sick like Edwards would be charged much more when they seek individual plans to replace dropped employer-based group plans, he said by phone Wednesday.
Oberlander, who has extensively reviewed the health-care reform proposals put forth by McCain and Obama for the New England Journal of Medicine, said it is difficult to know the precise effect either plan would have, but the plans would take American health care in very different directions.
Obama's plan would increase the number of people with insurance, he said, offering both public and private insurance options. Now, 46 million Americans, or 15 percent, don't have any at all. McCain would shift employer-based group plans to individual plans.