LAS VEGAS Because you did not want to spend your Saturday sitting in a room for three hours listening to Democratic presidential candidates tell you how they are going to provide universal health care for America, I did it for you.
The candidates appeared in a forum sponsored by the Service Employees International Union and the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was moderated by Karen Tumulty of Time magazine.
Here are the highlights in the order that the candidates appeared:
John Edwards: The former senator from North Carolina got a tough first question from Tumulty. How could he do two "all-consuming" things at once: run for president and deal with his wife's incurable cancer?
"We take our responsibility to serve our country very seriously," Edwards replied. "We want to serve. Both of us. Which is why we made the decision to go forward."
Then he added: "I think we are getting far too much credit when you look at all the millions of women struggling with what Elizabeth has without her great health care coverage. A lot of women with exactly the same diagnosis as Elizabeth had to get up the next morning and go to work."
What is his plan? "I would cover all Americans. There would be shared responsibilities: Employers must cover their employees or pay into a fund. The government would create health care markets, and you could choose your health care provider. Some would be private and some would be Medicare-plus kind of single-payer (i.e., government-run) plan. Everyone in America will be required by law to be covered by a health care plan."
How much will it cost, and how will he pay for it? Edwards said his plan will cost $90 billion to $120 billion per year in government costs. The money would come from tax increases, though he prefers the phrase "additional sources of revenue."
"I do not believe you can have universal health care without finding additional sources of revenue," he said. "You don't get universal health care for free.
When will we get it? In his first term.
Most intriguing line: "Some candidates say they will provide health care, improve the environment, end poverty and eliminate the federal deficit. They probably have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you, too. America needs a president who is honest, and honesty starts right here."
Bill Richardson: The governor of New Mexico said, "We spend $2 trillion a year on health care, and 31 percent of that is spent on bureaucracy and red tape. We must devise a strategy that, first of all, does not create any more bureaucracy."
What is his plan? All Americans should be able to purchase the same coverage as members of Congress and the president. Americans 55 and over should be able to purchase their coverage through Medicare. Veterans would have access to health care "anywhere they want, anytime they want."
How much will it cost, and how will he pay for it? Richardson did not give a cost. As to paying for it, he said: "Get out of Iraq and put the $400 billion we are spending there into human needs. Reduce and eliminate inefficiencies (in the health care system). This is a plan that could be paid for without any new taxes."
When will we get it? "With a Democratic president and a stronger Democratic Congress, the plan I outlined will be achieved in my first year as president."
Most intriguing line: "I just signed a statewide smoking ban in New Mexico (on smoking in bars, restaurants, stores and workplaces). I would do that as president."
Barack Obama: The junior senator from Illinois admitted he does not yet have a health care plan but said he will announce one in the next few months.
"The basic principles," he said, "are everybody is in it, there has to be more money for prevention, and some form of pooling of costs and risks. If we have another forum in a few months and my plan is still not on my Website, I will be in trouble."
How much will it cost, and how will he pay for it? Obama did not mention cost, but said, "I think we are going to have to put some money in on the front end. I think we can make the system more efficient and get a lot of money out of the system. I haven't foreclosed on needing additional revenues, but we should not underestimate the amount of money that can be saved."
When will we get it? He didn't say.
Most intriguing line: "Every four years, somebody trots out a health care plan. The question is do we have the political will and sense of urgency to actually get it done. I want to be held accountable to get it done."
Hillary Clinton: The junior senator from New York said: "A lot of people like what they have now. We don't want people feeling that government will come in and tell me what to do and what doctor I want to go to. We will give people a choice. We have to look at that as a framework."
What is her plan? "I am in favor of universal health care coverage that brings in the 47 million who are uninsured and that begins to guarantee coverage to those who already have insurance. Insurance companies spend a lot of money trying to avoid insuring you, and if they insure you, they try to avoid paying for the health care you need. Every health insurance company will have to insure everybody with no exclusions for pre-existing conditions."
How much will it cost, and how will she pay for it? She did not give the cost. She said: "There will be some investments, but when I talk about how much money we need to spend, I cannot see us spending more money as a national expenditure without modernizing, ending discrimination and promoting wellness. I don't think we should say we will put more money into a system that is broken."
When will we get it? At a forum in Carson City, Nev., last month, Clinton said: "President Kennedy said he wanted a man on the moon by the end of the decade. I want universal health care coverage by the end of my second term."
On Saturday, in Las Vegas, she was less clear as to her timetable. "I think we are all going to start as soon as possible," she said. "Make no mistake, this will be a series of steps."
Most intriguing line: "I vaguely remember being young."
Chris Dodd: The senior senator from Connecticut reminded the audience that the United States "ranks 26th in life expectancy and 28th in infant mortality, yet we account for more than 50 percent of the money spent worldwide on health care."
What is his plan? Dodd said his plan has four principles: universality, increased emphasis on prevention, expanding Medicare and Medicaid, and increasing the use of modern technology to lower health care costs.
How much will it cost, and how will he pay for it? He did not say how much it will cost. He did say: "We can pay for it if we can get rid of permanent tax cuts for the top 1 percent of earners and get rid of the Iraq war, which is costing us $2 billion a week."
When will it happen? "I am impatient. I will make this the first order of business in a Dodd administration. I would want to see it far sooner than four or eight years."
Most intriguing line: "My house is a Petri dish. One of my children has strep throat, and another has some kind of adenoidal infection."