DES MOINES, Iowa -- Two Democratic presidential candidates, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, called yesterday for federal action to deal with the nation's health care problems.
But Mr. Harkin was more specific and Mr. Clinton was more cautious in describing their own approaches to the issue, which many Democrats believe could be their most potent weapon in the 1992 challenge to President Bush.
In a 30-minute talk at a health policy forum here in his home state, Mr. Harkin said that he would emphasize the need for preventive medicine in establishing a comprehensive national health insurance plan.
"Everyone is running around trying to figure out how to pay the bills" for health care, he complained. "Let's quit focusing on how we patch and fix and mend and just pay bills, and let's make our guiding principle to prevent illness and disability and keep people healthy in the first place."
Citing a package of measures he has introduced in the Senate under the rubric "prevention first," Mr. Harkin contended: "We're spending over $700 billion a year on health care -- and we're not getting our money's worth. We don't need to spend a nickel more. We just have to spend it smarter."
As examples of preventive care, he mentioned parental care, mammograms to detect breast cancer, childhood immunizations and biomedical research.
By contrast, Mr. Clinton stressed the complexities of the health care problem in his remarks. As co-chair of the National Governors' Association task force on health care, Mr. Clinton is regarded as an authority on the subject.
And he made plain that health care would be on his list of priorities if he were to win the White House next year. "I believe that after the next election the president should get all the players together, give them 60 days to get a plan and get on with it."
But he did not say which plan, of the variety under discussion, he favors. And he said in an interview that he did not support any of the various plans offered by other Democrats because he did not regard their cost-control provisions as adequate.