Action on health plan not likely until 1994 But Clinton may start selling it in July

June 24, 1993|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Clinton administration officials say the president's health care reform measure most likely won't be presented until September, ending almost any chance that Congress would be able to complete action on it this year.

But administration officials say President Clinton is considering not waiting for introduction of the bill and will begin campaigning for health care reform in late July or August.

The timetable would depend on the status of his economic program, which could keep Congress occupied well into the summer.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, who headed the president's task force on health care reform, told reporters yesterday that the administration would be ready to present a plan, once congressional work on the economic program is over. Her husband made a similar statement at a news conference last week.

Mr. Clinton abandoned his original May date for presenting a plan because of fears that the health proposal -- which will require new taxes -- would cloud prospects for passing his tax-heavy economic plan.

Even if his health proposal were released today, action this year would be unlikely.

House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., and several other key lawmakers have been warning that health reform legislation -- one of the most complex domestic initiatives ever -- would necessitate congressional action well into 1994, an election year.

Mr. Clinton would like to win congressional passage of health reform this year to avoid any election-year political complications in 1994.

Mrs. Clinton met yesterday morning with advocates of a Canadian-style health care system in which the government -- not insurance companies -- pays all medical bills from tax revenues. Although White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers later said, "We're not pursuing [that kind of plan]," Mrs. Clinton said, "We're looking at common ground."

In a subsequent meeting with Sen. Sam Nunn, a Georgia Democrat, and Sen. Pete V. Domenici, a Republican from New Mexico, Mrs. Clinton expressed the administration's commitment to market-based reform.

But even within this framework, states would be given leeway to adopt Canadian-style plans in which the state, or a single purchasing cooperative, would be the sole source of insurance coverage, collecting revenues and paying bills.

All states would have to follow federal guidelines for cost controls and benefits. Mr. Clinton has decided to recommend that all Americans be guaranteed a comprehensive package of benefits, with employers, individuals and the government sharing the costs.

Key financing decisions -- whether to impose a payroll tax on businesses and workers, for example -- have not been made.

Rep. Jim McDermott, a Washington Democrat who is a leading sponsor of legislation to establish a system like Canada's, said Mrs. Clinton left lawmakers with the impression that "there's some room to negotiate." He said Mrs. Clinton asked him to form a small working group of House members to meet with the White House on drafting reform legislation.

He noted that 85 lawmakers are supporting Canadian-style legislation, far more than are supporting any other approach to health reform.

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