President Bush repeated his support for association health plans, health savings accounts and personal Social Security accounts Thursday during his presidential nomination acceptance speech.[@@]

Bush, who has included the programs in discussions of his “ownership society” initiative throughout the year, gave them extra attention by talking about them at the Republican National Convention in New York, during a speech televised by the major broadcast and cable news television networks.

Bush echoed arguments by many labor and benefits experts that health and retirement programs must change with the times.

“The workers of our parents’ generation typically had one job, one skill, one career, often with one company that provided health care and a pension,” Bush said. “And most of those workers were men. Today, workers change jobs, even careers, many times during their lives, and in one of the most dramatic shifts our society has seen, two-thirds of all moms also work outside the home.”

To help small businesses afford health coverage, “we must allow small firms to join together to purchase insurance at the discounts available to big companies,” Bush said.

“We will offer a tax credit to encourage small businesses and their employees to set up health savings accounts,” Bush added. “These accounts give workers the security of insurance against major illness, the opportunity to save tax-free for routine health expenses, and the freedom of knowing you can take your account with you whenever you change jobs.”

In recent years, health insurers and health insurance agents have welcomed the new HSA program, but they have expressed mixed feelings about association health plans.

Some health industry participants say the association plans would simply be multi-company versions of the self-funded, federally regulated plans that large employers now offer. The AHPs would give small employers the same freedom to escape state benefits mandates that large employers enjoy, advocates argue.

Critics have argued that poorly capitalized, lightly regulated AHPs could skim the healthiest small groups away from traditional health insurers, then collapse when large, unexpected claims roll in.

When Bush mentioned personal Social Security accounts, he emphasized the importance of the aging of the baby boomers.

“With the huge Baby Boom generation approaching retirement, many of our children and grandchildren understandably worry whether Social Security will be there when they need it,” Bush said. “We must strengthen Social Security by allowing younger workers to save some of their taxes in a personal account — a nest egg you can call your own, and government can never take away.”

Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, responded to the speech by arguing that Bush has a record of failure when it comes to lowering health costs and making health insurance more accessible.

While Bush has been president, the number of uninsured Americans has increased by 5.2 million, to 45 million, and the typical family’s share of health premiums has increased 50%, Kerry says.

In an attack on the private Social Security account proposal, Kerry says Bush is warming up the same proposal he offered in 2000.

“He’s not telling you that his commission already met, came up with a plan, and that it would cut benefits by up to 45%, borrow $2 trillion over the next decade to pay for the transition, and tax away 80% of the individual account that the worker supposedly owns,” according to Kerry’s response to the president’s speech.