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By Janet Zink May 7, 2008

That money could insure twice as many kids

Moments after Sen. John McCain fleshed out details of his health care plan in Tampa on April 29, 2008, opponents of his proposal were lining up to poke holes in the ideas of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

One criticism: McCain is willing to spend billions on the war in Iraq but not to help cover the 47-million Americans who don't have health insurance.

McCain's plan takes a free-market approach to health insurance and avoids the government involvement proposed by his Democratic rivals. Among other things, McCain has suggested offering a $2,500 tax credit to individuals and a $5,000 credit to families to help pay for health insurance independent of their employers and setting up a nonprofit to negotiate health insurance for people denied coverage by private companies.

The plan shows McCain's mixed-up priorities, contends Bill Newton, executive director of the Florida Consumer Action Network.

"For what we spend in just one week in Iraq, 800,000 children could get health insurance for an entire year," Newton said to highlight McCain's support of the war and his record of voting against expanding federal funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

He made the statement April 29 at a news conference co-hosted by FCAN, and health care workers in the same hotel where McCain was attending a fundraiser.

Newton's point is accurate, but his numbers are significantly understated. In fact, one week of war spending in Iraq would insure more than twice as many children.

To check the claim, we looked at the cost of the war in Iraq versus how much Medicaid spends to insure one child for a year.

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The Bush administration war chest request for 2008 was $196-billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with $159-billion going to Iraq, according to a summary by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

That amounts to $3-billion a week.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Medicaid payments in 2005 were about $1,617 per child.

So $3-billion would actually insure about 1.9-million children a year.

Newton said he got his figure from a federal budget trade-off calculator on the National Priorities Project Web site. A spokeswoman for National Priorities said the organization put the annual cost of insuring a child at about $1,800, based on costs in 2000 and forecasting for 2005. The calculator estimates the weekly war funding would insure about 1.1-million children based on spending in 2007. The calculator doesn't offer a figure for total proposed 2008 funding.

The most current figures only make Newton's case stronger.

When ruling on claims where numbers are overestimated, PolitiFact often gives the benefit of the doubt. But in this case, we're taking points off because the figure is so wildly off the mark. It makes us wonder how much homework the Florida Consumer Action Network even did. We rate the claim Mostly True.

Our Sources

Medicaid payments per enrollee, FY 2005, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation

National Priorities Project, Federal budget trade-offs calculator

Washington Post, "$35 Billion Boost In Works for Kids' Health Care," Sept. 18, 2007

Congressional Research Service, The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11, Feb. 8, 2008

New York Times, Estimates of Iraq War Cost Were Not Close to Ballpark, March 19, 2008

New York Times, Bush's Request for Wars Increases to $196 Billion, by Steven Lee Myers, Oct. 23, 2007

Fortune, What the Iraq war will cost the U.S., by Lawrence B. Lindsey, former White House economist

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