Health reform advisers unnamed Privacy is sought for 300 workers

February 13, 1993|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Administration officials balked yesterday at identifying the 300 federal officials and outside consultants being brought in to work with the president's task force on health care reform, which is led by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The task force consists of several Cabinet secretaries and top presidential advisers.

What's not known is who works on the 28 task groups detailed to study specific issues.

Administration officials, speaking on condition that they not be identified, said they didn't want to name individuals for fear they would be hounded by reporters and others. They remained firm on their previously announced position that meetings would be closed.

Rep. William F. Clinger Jr., a Republican from Pennsylvania, had questioned the White House on whether the law required open meetings but was told by the president's counsel that there was no violation of the law.

Ironically, the question of secrecy arose at a background briefing yesterday for reporters that was intended to illuminate the task force's proceedings.

The officials, speaking on the condition that they not be identified, discussed how the task force was doing its work, which is scheduled to conclude with Mr. Clinton's presenting legislation by his 100th day in office, April 30.

They emphasized several points:

* Officials and employees of interest groups -- the American Hospital Association, for example -- are not permitted to work for the task force. Even so, medical professionals and other experts in the health industry are participating. And the views of interest groups are being solicited.

* All participants must sign an ethics pledge barring them from lobbying the government for six months after they stop working with the task force.

* The task force is trying to reach out broadly and is working with Congress, the governors and consumer groups. Everyday Americans, consumers of health care, will be brought in to offer suggestions and respond to ideas. Who would be chosen and how this would occur were not revealed.

Some 9,000 letters on health care have been received from the public.

Each is read, officials insisted.

They stressed the efforts being made to head off a public relations and political disaster that would occur if the task force prepared a program that neither voters nor the Congress could swallow. In that regard, the Democratic National Committee has hired a former Clinton campaign worker to help with a public relations campaign.

Mrs. Clinton is the chief salesperson for the task force, at present doing more public education work than decision-making on health policy, the officials said. But as time goes on she will be an "honest broker" in working for consensus on an issue where there are so many divergent views.

On Thursday, she participated in a health care forum in Pennsylvania. She plans to crisscross the country and be the chief liaison with Congress. On Tuesday, she'll meet with House members.

The task groups are in their early stages of work -- still scrambling for desks and phones, officials said.

At the moment, they are exploring all possible options, working within a framework of goals established by the president: affordable health care for all Americans, cost controls that include a national spending limit and maximum private choice of medical care in a competitive system.

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