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By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent
TAMPA, Fla., April 29 Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Tuesday will propose more choices in health-care coverage for Americans to foster competition, drive down costs and reduce reliance on employer-based insurance.
In a speech at a Tampa hospital, part of his week-long health-care tour, McCain will flesh out details of a plan that he said puts the individual in charge and places a premium on preventative medicine and creating healthier lifestyles.
"When families are informed about medical choices, they are more capable of making their own decisions, less likely to choose the most expensive and often unnecessary options, and are more satisfied with their choices," McCain will say, according to excerpts of his speech provided by his campaign.
"Americans need new choices beyond those offered in employment-based coverage. Americans want a system built so that wherever you go and wherever you work, your health plan goes with you," the Arizona senator said.
At the heart of McCain's plan is a tax credit of $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families that could be used to leave an employer-based plan and purchase cheaper, more suitable insurance on the open market -- creating competition that would lower the price.
"Insurance companies could no longer take your business for granted, offering narrow plans with escalating costs. It would help change the whole dynamic of the current system, putting individuals and families back in charge," he said.
McCain has clinched the Republican nomination in November's presidential election and will face the winner of the Democratic race, either Illinois Sen. Barack Obama or New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.
McCain on Monday criticized calls by his Democratic rivals for universal health care coverage for 47 million uninsured Americans as a "big-government" solution that would not leave enough choice and opportunity for individuals.
But critics of McCain's plan say it would not make insurance cheaper or more available and might prevent people with pre-existing conditions from getting coverage.
McCain said he would not force anyone to leave an employer-based program and would seek solutions for those with pre-existing medical conditions, including working with states that create insurance pools for high-risk individuals.
"Those without prior group coverage and those with pre-existing conditions do have the most difficulty on the individual market, and we need to make sure they get the high-quality coverage they need," McCain said.
McCain adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin, in a briefing with reporters, could not say how long it would take to establish the new insurance market. "I don't think anybody expects this overnight," he said.
McCain offered the broad outlines of his health-care plan last year, but will flesh out the details during his tour this week and throughout the campaign.
In his Tampa speech, McCain also will call for more wellness and preventative medicine programs, including more early testing and screening for chronic conditions.
He also will push medical liability reform that would make it tougher to sue doctors in some cases.
"Those reforms should eliminate lawsuits directed at doctors who follow clinical guidelines and adhere to patient safety protocols," he said.
(Editing by Alan Elsner) (To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at http:/blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)