'New' health bill nearly duplicates Bush's '92 proposal Congress adopted most of his campaign blueprint

August 04, 1996|By NEWSDAY

WASHINGTON -- Congressional Republicans and Democrats, vying to take credit for revamping the nation's health insurance system, are hailing the bill sent to President Clinton as one of their "most remarkable" creations.

But in fact, they've had the blueprint for the measure in hand for four years: It is almost an exact duplicate of the proposal former President George Bush offered on the 1992 campaign trail.

During his unsuccessful re-election campaign against Bill Clinton, Bush proposed a health care program to "guarantee access to health insurance to all families" and in doing so offered TC what he called "job lock protection" for millions of Americans who "are afraid to change jobs for fear of losing their health insurance."

There are other similarities: Bush's plan guaranteed coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, and it offered 100 percent tax deductibility on health care premiums for the self-employed.

After the Clinton health proposal landed with a thud, medical care reform was largely dropped from the national agenda until the president spotlighted the current bill in his last State of the Union address.

That bill offers "job lock protection," prevents insurers from denying coverage based on a pre-existing condition dating back more than 12 months, and allows self-employed individuals to deduct up to 80 percent of the cost of their health care from their taxes by the year 2006.

"We could have had this bill a number of years ago," said political analyst Stuart Rothenberg. "The idea has been around for a while."

The most controversial provision in the bill -- the one congressional Republicans fought the hardest for -- wasn't even mentioned during Bush's campaign.

That provision is for the creation of up to 750,000 tax-sheltered medical savings accounts, an idea strongly supported by insurance groups. The four-year experiment allows individuals to put aside $2,000 a month ($4,000 for couples) tax free to pay most medical costs, while buying insurance policies with high deductibles to cover serious illnesses.

Individuals older than 65 could withdraw all of their medical savings for any reason without penalty.

Nonetheless, even with the inclusion of medical savings accounts, the bill will likely not have a large effect nationwide. The measure sets guidelines 47 states legislated years ago.

Pub Date: 8/04/96

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