Health care rides tax bill Congress considers measures to widen insurance coverage.

February 25, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ALSO CONTRIBUTED TO THIS STORY. — WASHINGTON -- The Senate Finance Committee plans to add several key health-care proposals to the tax cut bill it drafts this week, including provisions designed to make it easier and less expensive for Americans to buy medical insurance, according to Senate strategists.

Among them will be provisions that would prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage to people with existing medical problems and would enable workers who have health problems to continue their current medical insurance if they change jobs.

Others would expand Medicare coverage to include preventive care such as cancer screening and would permit self-employed people to claim a tax deduction for the full cost of their health insurance.

The proposals, drafted by Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D-Texas, the Finance Committee's chairman, were unveiled last fall but never were incorporated into any legislation.

The only health provision in the tax bills that the House is slated to take up this week is the deduction for the self-employed.

Today, the House Rules Committee was scheduled to lay down procedures for House debate -- and voting order -- on three proposals: President Bush's original tax cut plan, a streamlined version drafted by House Republicans and a Democratic alternative backed by the House leadership.

The Democratic-dominated House will take up the tax bill tomorrow and presumably choose the Democratic alternative.

On Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee begins drafting its own version of the bill, expected to cover essentially the same areas, with some details changed.

Senate strategists said yesterday the addition of the health-care provisions to the tax legislation was designed to push them through quickly without need for a separate health-care bill.

The Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee already has approved a massive health-care bill that would require employers to provide minimal medical insurance coverage for all their workers or face higher payroll taxes needed to enroll them in a federal plan, but Mr. Bentsen favors a more modest approach.

If Mr. Bentsen's proposals are passed as part of the Senate's tax cut bill, as seems likely now, the Senate then would have to decide whether to pass the labor committee's proposal as well or simply be content with the more modest version.

Some analysts said the addition of the health-care proposals could escalate the bidding war that has erupted between Republicans and Democrats to add favorite election-year provisions to the tax bill. The Senate has no rules to prohibit such add-ons.

The tax cut legislation being drafted by Mr. Bentsen's panel is expected be similar to that being backed by House Democratic leaders, providing tax breaks for middle-income Americans and new investment incentives, to be paid for by increasing taxes on the rich.

Mr. Bentsen said Friday that he was dropping a previous strategy that had called for financing the tax cuts by using savings from cutbacks in defense spending -- a turnaround designed to placate some senators who want to channel any such "peace dividend" into domestic spending instead.

A growing number of lawmakers -- including many Democrats -- appear to be having second thoughts about whether Congress should pass any tax cut bill at all. Most economists testifying on the issue have urged not cutting taxes lest it increase the budget deficit.

Even so, House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., indicated yesterday that the tax-cut legislation probably would go through the House intact, if only because key Democratic leaders want to force President Bush to carry out his threat to veto it.

Meanwhile, Oregon's plan to ration medical services to the poor, one model for universal health, is being criticized by a Congressional research agency, the New York Times reports today, citing a draft report it had obtained.

The Congressional Office of Technology Assessment said Oregon's program was "not an especially promising approach," the Times reported.

The newspaper quoted a confidential draft of a report the agency is expected to release this spring. It didn't say how it obtained the draft.

Oregon's program would increase the number of people eligible for public aid for medical care while restricting the types of services they could receive.

The draft said the plan would deprive many low-income people of Medicaid services to which they are now entitled.

The Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, which advises Congress, said it had "serious reservations" about Oregon's plan, which has gotten an initially positive response from the Bush administration, the Times said.

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