Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards (search) wants to require parents to have health insurance for their children, making medical care an American birthright much like education.

The North Carolina senator wants $25 billion annually in tax credits to help parents pay the cost of enrolling their children in private or government plans.

Edwards' plan is a targeted alternative to costlier and more widespread proposals to cover the uninsured being offered by several of his rivals for the Democratic nomination. The senator said the nation's 12 million uninsured children should be the first priority in reforming the health care system.

"The only way we can tackle this problem in an effective and responsible way is to ask for responsibility," Edwards said Monday at a New Hampshire health center, "from parents to make sure their children have health care, responsibility from government to help families get insurance and deal with rising costs, and responsibility from drug and insurance companies to bring the cost of health care down."

A plan that helps keep kids healthy could prove politically popular. Insuring children also is less costly than covering adults because they generally don't require as much medical attention.

Edwards' plan, estimated to cost $53 billion a year, also includes some targeted subsidies aimed at helping more than 8 million uninsured adults afford health care. It also proposes cost-control measures it estimates will save $15 billion to $17 billion annually.

The amount of the tax credit for children's insurance (search) would vary depending on income and family size. The credit would be available to families with fewer than four members earning up to $75,000 and families of four or more earning up to $100,000.

Edwards said a typical family of four with income of about $60,000 and already covering the children through a parent's job would get a tax break worth roughly $300.

Parents would have to provide proof of their children's insurance when filing tax returns. Those who refused to provide coverage would have their children automatically enrolled in a government plan, with the cost taken out of their tax benefits.

Edwards' rivals in the Democratic race also are calling for expanding coverage for the uninsured.

Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt (search) would require all employers to provide health insurance and give large tax breaks to reimburse much of their cost. His plan would cost more than $200 billion a year.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean have plans aimed at covering nearly all the 40 million Americans now uninsured, using a variety of tax breaks and other government programs to reach the goal. Kerry estimates his plan would cost $80 billion a year; Dean says his would cost $88 billion.