Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Both Sides Trade Horror Stories in Debate over Health-Care Reform

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Both Sides Trade Horror Stories in Debate over Health-Care Reform

Article excerpt

The battle over health reform is becoming a clash between horror stories and visual images. The horror stories, several of which Bill Clinton told in his State of the Union address, concern people who lose their health insurance coverage by changing jobs - or the scores of millions more (no one really seems to know exactly how many) who have no coverage at all.

The visual images, by contrast, dramatize the dangers of "bureaucratizing" the U.S. medical-care system. Sen. Bob Dole scored, in his official response to the presidential address, when he displayed a chart that originated in the office of Sen. Arlen Specter. It purports to show the bewildering lines of authority that the Clinton plan will impose. Similarly, the cover artist for the Feb. 7 New Republic (a magazine sympathetic to the administration, though not to its health-reform package) depicts the Clinton plan as a labyrinth where one might wander to the end of time in search of a diagnosis and cure.

The president should note this byplay. It is symptomatic of a gathering political problem.

Clinton's health-care initiative has been described as the most ambitious federal legislative project since the Social Security Act was proposed, some 60 years ago. Maybe it is. But there is a notable difference. Successful social reform legislation in America, although often complex in detail, is usually simple enough in outline to be understood. Social Security itself was designed to prevent penury in old age. The Wagner Act before it established a right to strike and bargain collectively. Both objectives were easily explained and grasped in a sentence or two.

What is the basic deal offered by the Clinton health-reform plan? To correct flagrant inequities and to control the wildly accelerating cost of medicine, yes. But aside from those broad purposes, what's in it for you and me? It is of a conceptual complexity so great as to be intelligible only to its designers, the ultimate committee-designed camel. That is understandable in view of the style of its chief designer, Bill Clinton's old Oxford chum, Ira Magaziner, a humorless social engineer who is as deaf to political shadings as Clinton is sensitive to them. …

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