Step toward health care reform Senate rejects crippling amendment: Modest reforms will help millions of Americans.

April 21, 1996

AGAINST ENORMOUS odds, both houses of Congress have passed measures that take limited but important steps toward health care reform. Unlike the comprehensive proposal put forth by the Clinton administration two years ago, this legislation aspires to modest change.

But to Americans afraid to leave a job for fear of losing their health insurance or to those penalized for pre-existing conditions, the reforms championed by a bi-partisan team of Sen. Nancy L. Kassebaum, R-Kans., and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., will be significant.

Senator Kassebaum says that 25 million Americans are reluctant to change jobs because of uncertainty about health insurance coverage. Others face exorbitant premiums because of health problems. This legislation would prevent employer-sponsored plans from denying coverage or charging higher premiums because of these pre-existing conditions.

The bill now goes to conference committee to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions. But it has already survived its toughest challenges. One of them, a close Senate vote on health care savings accounts, seen by many as a test of Sen. Bob Dole's leadership -- a subject of keen interest now that he is his party's apparent presidential nominee. Mr. Dole was a champion of this conservative cause, but Democrats persuaded a handful of moderate Republicans that the accounts would allow insurance companies to cherry-pick healthy clients, thus raising premiums for those with higher medical costs.

With the demise of the Clinton health care plan, hopes for even small reforms dimmed. But the unrelenting efforts of Sens. Kassebaum and Kennedy show that consensus is possible on relief from some of the worst problems of our patch-work health system. Though this bill leaves much undone, it shows that with patience and persistence this country can find ways to provide equitable access to health care.

Pub Date: 4/21/96

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