First step in health reform Bipartisan bill: Insurance for workers changing jobs even if medical problems exist.

August 02, 1996

MILLIONS of working Americans now covered by employer-provided health insurance policies will be able to change jobs without losing coverage even if they or members of their families have continuing medical problems. In addition, the self-employed will get tax deductions of up to 80 percent on the cost of their health insurance premiums and tax breaks will be offered on long-term care coverage.

These reforms, part of a pre-convention burst of legislation on Capitol Hill, are often described as modest, realistic, incremental. But that can only be in comparison to the grandiose overhaul of the nation's health care system that went crashing down two years ago.

President Clinton and his fellow Democrats are not the only ones who have learned the pitfalls of political overreach and arrogance. So have Speaker Newt Gingrich and his fellow

Republicans. What they have learned, essentially, is that the American people when aroused and educated and focused can sometimes force their political leaders to do the right thing if luck and timing and expedience coincide.

First, some numbers: An estimated 25 million citizens will no longer have to worry that they will lose their health insurance if their breadwinners are laid off or fired or opt to change jobs or become self-employed. The bipartisan bill going to President Clinton for his announced approval will require insurance companies to provide such persons with policies roughly parallel in cost and coverage to what they now have. But 39.7 million Americans still remain without health insurance -- a monument to Mr. Clinton's greatest failure and a challenge to what must be done in the future.

There can be no return to the monstrous plan for intrusive government control of the nation's health system as once proposed by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Her husband has proclaimed that the "era of big government is over." But there also can be no pretense that this week's legislation can be anything but a first installment on what must be done.

Congress, under insurance industry pressure, refused to deal with mental illness -- an egregious flaw that should be addressed promptly. It also did nothing to offer consumer protections for patients in health maintenance organizations -- this despite a rising clamor.

These and many other issues are for next year's public agenda. The result can be continuing pressure on large sectors of the health industry to keep reinventing themselves as government acts where needed and moves out of the way where not.

Pub Date: 8/02/96

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