Key House Committee Endorses Employer-Financed Health Plan

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee struck a major blow for President Clinton's health reforms Thursday, approving a sweeping plan to insure every American by 1998 and requiring employers to foot most of the bill.

Rep. Sam M. Gibbons, D-Fla., the panel's acting chairman, boasted it "will guarantee from birth to death. . .that all Americans will never lose their health care."

But barely an hour before the Democrats' narrow victory in Ways and Means, the Senate Finance Committee turned its back on compulsory health insurance. It unceremoniously dumped from Chairman Daniel Patrick Moynihan's bill a requirement that employers kick in for health insurance if other measures fail.

The senators then voted to tax the richest health benefit plans and set a goal of getting at least 95 percent of Americans covered by 2002.

The 20-18 vote made Ways and Means the third congressional committee to approve legislation overhauling the country's health system and insurance laws. It guarantees a vote by the House later this summer.

The president, watching on television, called to congratulate Gibbons moments after the new chairman had pushed the landmark bill through Ways and Means. Clinton called the panel's action "a giant stride forward" and added: "While the special interests will continue to try and stand in the way of history, they will not succeed."

And a case of Schlitz beer was delivered to Gibbons at the podium in the cavernous committee room. The gift from Hillary Rodham Clinton was a reminder of the two cans of Schlitz that Gibbons carried in his pack when he parachuted into France on D-Day 50 years ago.

Earlier, the president attacked Sen. Bob Dole's substitute proposal, supported by 39 of the 44 Senate Republicans. "It is politics as usual," said Clinton.

"It does a little bit for the poor, it leaves all the powerful vested interest groups with everything they've got, and it walks away from the middle class and small business," Clinton said.

Ways and Means rejected on a party-line 24-14 vote a Republican alternative to help the uninsured with insurance reforms and subsidies, but not require anybody to buy insurance. "We have the answers but you have the votes," said Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif.

The Ways and Means bill would require employers to pick up 80 percent of premiums and make employees pay the other 20 percent. Some 60 million Americans _ the poor now on Medicaid, the jobless uninsured and low-wage workers in firms with fewer than 100 employees _ would get government health insurance through an expanded Medicare program.

In Finance, all nine Republicans and five Democrats joined in the 14-6 vote against a Moynihan provision forcing employers to cover workers in three to five years if voluntary measures fell short. …