Vital signs for health care reform Kassebaum-Kennedy bill: A good, simple, bipartisan measure threatened by raw politics.

March 27, 1996

HEALTH CARE REFORM is back on the congressional agenda, but political maneuvers by both Republicans and Democrats are likely to kill it.

The last time public hopes were raised, President Clinton overreached with a bill so elaborate and controversial it fell of its own weight. This time most Democrats are prepared to support much simpler legislation but conservative Republicans in the House want to load it up fatally. And if they don't murder the measure, some liberal Democrats are willing to do the deed for them.

Why are certain legislators acting so perversely? Why are they willing to deny the American people health insurance protection they want and need?

The answer has nothing -- repeat nothing -- to do with the substance of a bipartisan measure that has been put together by Republican Sen. Nancy Kassebaum and Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Reflecting the most popular common denominator, their bill would guarantee that when workers change jobs they can retain their health insurance regardless of any pre-existing medical conditions. These were the most widely acclaimed features of the doomed Clinton proposal. Since it went down to defeat, even the health insurance industry as come around to support these improvements.

So why is the Kassebaum-Kennedy bill in mortal danger? Sad to tell, it is because both party caucuses are concerned that if such a popular measure is passed, the credit will go to their opponents.

Happily, some lawmakers rise above such tawdry calculations. Fifteen House Republicans, including Maryland's Constance Morella, have decided to back the Kassebaum-Kennedy bill. If Democrats were to remain solid (a big if), they would need only six more GOP votes to pass it as an alternative to the loaded-up leadership measure.

Strong arguments can be made, of course, for medical insurance accounts (favored by conservatives), for full tax deductions on health insurance costs for the self-employed (favored by liberals) and for a number of other ideas of varying merit. But in this case, neither the perfect nor the imperfect should be made the enemy of the good. The nation has a chance to correct two of the worst BTC deficiencies in its health care system. It would be a shame if this opportunity falls victim to raw politics.

Pub Date: 3/27/96

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