Health Care Reform Passage in '94 Vital

Article excerpt

Journal Record Staff Reporter

Health care reform must be passed this year or it will lose momentum and popular support and die, former Democratic presidential candidate Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts said Thursday.

What makes the issue so critical is that Congress is to take up debate Tuesday on a balanced budget amendment. Health care costs, especially government entitlement programs, will play a significant role, the former senator said.

"If we don't get health care reform this year, we won't get it next year, either," said Tsongas, who was in Oklahoma City to lobby for popular support of his particular version of health care reform. "If Congress ends up in gridlock over this, it's going to lose momentum and go away and we'll never get true reform."

At the very least, Tsongas predicted, Congress will pass some form of insurance reform and provide some form of health care relief for the working poor this year.

"That would be disastrous, though," he said. "Then they (members of Congress) would feel as if they had done something and let the issue die. We can't do that."

Tsongas' visit was sponsored by the Healthcare Leadership Council, made up chief executives of medical facilities and insurance and pharmaceutical companies who "realize there is going to be some sort of reform, and they want to have something to say about it," he said.

Health care reform that Tsongas advocated during the 1992 Democratic presidential primary differs slightly from that advocated by the Healthcare Leadership Council, he said.

"We're together about 95 percent on this," he said. "We differ on employer mandates. I feel that employer mandates are important to have universal coverage; they don't. Let the people decide which they want.

"I came on as spokesperson for this group with two conditions _ that I could advocate my particular reform that I came to the table with back in the fall of 1991, and that I not lobby members of Congress."

The Clinton health care reform bill takes a lot of the measures he advocated during the campaign but adds entitlements that weren't in the campaign issue, Tsongas said.

"I never had these three new entitlements: for 55-year-old retirees, long-term health care and pharmaceuticals for the elderly. Those are megabucks.

"People who vote for the balanced budget amendment next week will have a hard time also voting for those extra entitlements."

Those entitlements are precisely what will cause President Clinton to compromise on several aspects of the proposal, Tsongas said. Most of the compromise will be with U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., who has presented what Tsongas called "a centrist approach" to health care.

Because Cooper has strong bipartisan support in both houses of Congress, his proposal appears to be more highly favored than that of the administration. …