Health care looks set to be perhaps the most-discussed domestic
issue in Washington this election-year summer.
One reason: The demise of sweeping antitobacco legislation has
left both Republicans and Democrats searching for something popular
they can do quickly. Health care is an obvious choice for action, as
in many polls it rates near the top of late-20th-century US voters'
This doesn't mean that anything remotely resembling President
Clinton's failed health-care-reform bill of 1994 will return to the
Instead, both parties are promoting incremental steps, such as
protection of health maintenance organization patients' rights, or
more punishment for insurance firms that illegally deny policy
It does mean that national politicians don't want to be outflanked
on the issue. GOP legislators, in particular, are worried about
their opponents portraying them as health-reform obstructionists.
"Now that the Republicans have moved into this it will be harder
to differentiate among candidates on health care alone," says Robert
Blendon, professor at Harvard University's School of Public Health in
If nothing else, this week's White House agenda points out the
timeliness of the health-care issue.
President Clinton had barely returned from his trip to China
before he was out in the Rose Garden July 6, pushing new outreach
programs intended to make more low-income senior citizens aware of
government aid that will help pay part of their Medicare premiums.
Between 3 million and 4 million beneficiaries aren't aware that
they're eligible for such aid, Mr. Clinton said. This group is
overpaying Medicare by a combined $2 billion a year, he said, citing
a study by the organization Families USA.
Then on July 7, the president leaped into another health-care
issue, promising to crack down on insurance firms that deny coverage
on the basis of preexisting medical conditions. Most such actions
are illegal under a 1996 health-insurance law - and firms that get
caught will be denied lucrative government business, said Clinton.
Has the nation's chief executive been struck by an urge to
impersonate a deputy secretary of Health and Human Services? Not
likely. What's going on here, say experts, is that Clinton
recognizes the political power of the phrase "health care." Thus he
works to personally associate himself with any popular health-care
reform the government may take, no matter how small. …