Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Major Battle Brewing over Health Care Industry Marshals Its Forces

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Major Battle Brewing over Health Care Industry Marshals Its Forces

Article excerpt

THE FIGHT over the president's economic plan was light sparring compared with the punches that are expected to be thrown over the next big issue on the president's agenda - his long-awaited health-care plan.

Originally due in May, the unfinished plan was put on ice while Congress dealt with the budget and deficit reduction. While that may have been necessary, the delay has cost the president momentum on health-care reform and given critics an opportunity to organize opposition.

By the time he outlines the plan in a speech to Congress late next month, health industry groups will have laid a multimillion-dollar foundation for challenging key parts they do not like. Big budgets are being raised for advertising, lobbying and campaign contributions, the tools interest groups have used in the past to block reforms.

But industry groups won't be the only problem. Even though polls show the public wants some reforms, Americans have become more pessimistic about how the president's plan will affect their health care.

It's no wonder that White House officials have set up what some call a "war room" to map its public relations campaign. The administration knows it faces a ferocious, protracted fight.

Clinton will ask all employers to pay for insurance, and propose as much as $40 billion in new taxes so that government can pay for insurance for the unemployed. All Americans, regardless of their health or employment, would be guaranteed a package of benefits that includes preventive services, hospitalization, prescription drugs, some dental coverage and limited mental health treatment and long-term care.

While everyone is in favor of universal access to good health care, the president's plan faces opposition on many fronts - foremost, the mandate on employers and new taxes. But there also will be fights over abortion coverage, which the president plans to include, a proposed national health budget intended to restrain spending, and creation of giant purchasing cooperatives that would buy insurance for consumers and regulate the health-care marketplace in each state.

Opponents charge that the White House plan will undermine quality, limit patients' choices of doctors and bring about a system of governmentally rationed care. They and their congressional allies are ready to challenge any attempt to impose price controls on insurers, doctors, hospitals and prescription drugs.

Among groups likely to support the administration, the AFL-CIO is expected to provide most of the financing - more than $3 million, but a fraction of what opponents can raise.

Consumer groups say they will depend more on low-budget activities to rally support, like the 1,000 house parties that Families USA is planning soon after the president announces a plan in late September. The American Association of Retired Persons will spread the word to its 33 million members through its magazine and host numerous community meetings.

But major industries and professional groups also are expected to engage in trench warfare, with the American Medical Association encouraging its 290,000 member physicians to distribute literature to patients. …

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