"It requires that everybody be covered. It requires that everybody get preventive care," he told a crowd sitting in lawn chairs in front of the Cedar County Courthouse. "If you are going to be in the system, you can't choose not to go to the doctor for 20 years. You have to go in and be checked and make sure that you are OK."
He noted, for example, that women would be required to have regular mammograms in an effort to find and treat "the first trace of problem." Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, announced earlier this year that her breast cancer had returned and spread.
Edwards said his mandatory health care plan would cover preventive, chronic and long-term health care. The plan would include mental health care as well as dental and vision coverage for all Americans.
"The whole idea is a continuum of care, basically from birth to death," he said.
The former North Carolina senator said all presidential candidates talking about health care "ought to be asked one question: Does your plan cover every single American?"
"Because if it doesn't they should be made to explain what child, what woman, what man in America is not worthy of health care," he said. "Because in my view, everybody is worth health care."
Edwards said his plan would cost up to $120 billion a year, a cost he proposes covering by ending President Bush's tax cuts to people who make more than $200,000 per year.
Edwards, who has been criticized by some for calling on Americans to be willing to give up their SUVs while driving one, acknowledged Sunday that he owns a Ford Escape hybrid SUV, purchased within the year, and a Chrysler Pacificia, which he said he has had for years.
"I think all of us have to move, have to make progress," he said. "I'm not holyier-than-thou about this. ... I'm like a lot of Americans, I see how serious this issue is and I want to address it myself and I want to help lead the nation in the right direction."
He said he would not buy another SUV in the future.
The Ford Escape, the first hybrid SUV on the market, gets an estimated 36 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway.