This morning, The Lewin Group, a non-partisan health care econometrics firm, released its long-awaited report on the presidential candidates’ health plans. Lewin is “the gold standard of independent health-care analysis.” Its report revealed profound differences in the candidates’ directions for health reform.

Barack Obama clearly favors an expansion of government programs (and the creation of new ones); more regulation handed down from Washington; new mandates, rules, and penalties; and restrictions on individual choice. John McCain advocates empowering consumers; reigning in government programs; freeing up insurance markets; and enabling individuals and families to make personal health care decisions. America is at a crossroads.

Lewin found that both plans would make major gains in reducing the number of uninsured. By 2010, the McCain plan would cover 21.1 million new people, and the Obama plan would cover 26.6 million new people. What is most significant, however, is how the plans actually go about expanding coverage.

As shown in the graph below, the Obama plan would result in millions of Americans losing private coverage and even more becoming dependent on government programs. In other words, Obama would prescribe a massive expansion of government coverage. The McCain plan would work in the opposite direction by expanding access to private coverage, bringing new people into the private markets.

Lewin chart on changes in health care coverage

Why is this relevant? Under Obama’s public insurance plans, the government would decide which health care services would be covered and how much doctors would be paid. Under the McCain plan, individuals could choose the private insurance that met their needs and those of their families. Moreover, the reimbursement rate for doctors would be set fairly by the market, not limited arbitrarily by Washington.

Who do you want making decisions about your health care coverage: You and your family, or the government?

Now that Lewin has come out with its analysis, Heritage is finalizing its reports on the candidates’ plans. We will release them next week.