WASHINGTON (AP) _ A divided federal panel Thursday recommended a $6 billion plan to improve access to health care and reduce costs while various reforms are tested.
The Advisory Council on Social Security suggested its proposal could be financed by doubling taxes on alcohol and tobacco products, and estimated that a comprehensive change in the system could be in place by the turn of the century.
The panel, appointed in 1989 by Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan, estimated that its proposals would provide access to health care for about 20 million of the nearly 35 million uninsured Americans.
But the plan drew immediate criticism for not going far enough.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said the proposal pays "lip service to the health care crisis." And the American College of Physicians said the report "fails to reflect what the public increasingly understands: that comprehensive reform of the health care system is needed now."
Four of the panel's 13 members dissented with the majority report, saying the recommended measures were inadequate and that council had "failed in its major mission."
The Bush administration said the proposal "contains valuable suggestions" and "will be carefully considered."
Deborah Steelman, chairwoman of the panel and a health-care adviser to President Bush in his 1988 campaign, said the council recognized the urgent need for change.
"If we do not reform our need for, use, delivery and financing of health care, the serious potential exists to disrupt our qualify of life, our standard of living, and our general economy," she said.
However, the American public does not strongly support any single approach. She recalled the enactment several years ago of a Medicare catastrophic insurance plan that produced such an uproar among senior citizens who would finance it that Congress repealed it a year later. …