WASHINGTON - Tired of being accused of hindering health care reform and seeking political advantage, the Republican Party today offered its own proposal with a surprise twist-universal coverage.
"It offers free medical care to everyone-even illegal immigrants," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, who intends to introduce the plan next week. "To be eligible, the only thing low-income patients have to do is prove they're dead."
Republicans argue that the proof of mortality requirement will cut costs of health care dramatically while at the same time expanding coverage significantly.
"The focus has been on preventive care to cut costs, but everyone has overlooked the option of post-illness treatment," Boehner said. "Under our innovative plan," he said, "once an attending physician has confirmed that the patient is deceased, the doctor will diagnose the patient's condition and prescribe a course of treatment, if necessary. We expect the number of cases referred to specialists to be limited."
Demand for prescription medicines should decline sharply, he added.
The offer to extend health care to illegal immigrants was an unexpected move by the GOP.
"Actually it will kill two birds with one stone," said Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele. "If large numbers of illegal immigrants qualify for coverage, then the total number of illegal immigrants should decrease dramatically."
Republicans in fact plan to market the plan's benefits aggressively among immigrants.
Party officials dismissed fears that low-income patients might produce false death certificates, pointing out that the plan requires physician assessment of the patient.
"They'll check all the vital signs," a spokesman said. "I'd be surprised if too many people can hold their breath for five minutes."
Since free universal coverage would be available, Republicans envision that insurance companies can increase rates for those who choose private coverage, likely forcing more middle-class individuals into the government plan. Insurance companies reacted favorably to the proposal.
"The death threshold for benefits should contain costs," said B. Lew Shieldcross, an insurance representative involved in negotiations with the Obama administration. "And companies can increase profits. It's a win-win situation; I'm surprised no one has come up with this approach before."
The plan incorporates the conservative philosophy of making individuals responsible for their own care, Boehner said. "People will have to take control of their internal organs, and just say no to heart disease and cancer."