Cautious Approach to Health-Care Reform Gains Favor

Article excerpt

Members of Congress are taking a second look at approaches that stop short of President Bill Clinton's plan to overhaul America's health-care system.

The changes are not exactly baby steps.

Modest reforms, such as requiring insurance companies to accept people with pre-existing health problems, would help millions of people, with minimal government intervention or taxpayer expense.

But the cautious approach doesn't guarantee that every American would have health insurance - a benefit that a majority of the public wants, polls show. Proponents of the modest approach say universal coverage must wait.

The go-slow school could become a major influence in this year's debate. If caution becomes the watchword, Clinton could be forced to accept a longer phase-in for universal coverage, or elimination of such features as federal cost controls.

The president of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Drew Alatman, a health-care philanthropy based in Menlo Park, Calif., says: "Many moderates are increasingly eyeing with longing some of the more modest incremental approaches - not because of what they do, but because of what they don't do: They don't regulate, they don't raise taxes, and they're less open to charges of big government."

Republicans are beginning to rally behind cautious change.

"We can't wait on a consensus for universal coverage," said William Kristol, chairman of the Project for the Republican Future, a Washington think tank. It promotes the idea that there is no widespread health-care crisis. "Let's fix what needs to be fixed, and let's not endanger the quality of American health care," Kristol says.

Many Democratic lawmakers also harbor sympathies in that direction. Indeed, Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen got a modest, bipartisan health reform bill through the Senate in 1992, when he was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Opposition from House Democrats ultimately killed it. …