Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Senate Starts Debate on Health Care Mitchell, Dole Draw Philosophical Lines

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Senate Starts Debate on Health Care Mitchell, Dole Draw Philosophical Lines

Article excerpt

The Senate formally began its debate on health care in a charged partisan atmosphere Tuesday evening.

The Democratic and Republican standard-bearers - Majority Leader George J. Mitchell of Maine and Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas - lost no time in drawing the sharp political and philosophical differences between their parties, even as each called on the other to put aside politics. Senators focused their debate on a proposal by Mitchell that promises coverage for 95 percent of the public within seven years.

"Health care reform is a matter of simple justice," Mitchell said, opening the debate with a solemn evocation of the 37 million uninsured Americans and those who fear losing their coverage through illness or age. "None of us chooses our family circumstance. None of us is immune to bad luck. We're all susceptible to accident and illness. We all grow old."

He referred to the American system as a "crisis of affordability and price," adding, "It has to change." For too many, "the difference between secure coverage and an unaffordable policy can be as heartbreaking as one sick child," Mitchell said.

For his part, Dole said Mitchell's plan contained too much government interference in a system he said works well for the majority of its people. "America has the best health care delivery system in the world," Dole said, warning that sweeping changes could endanger that quality.

He criticized Mitchell's provisions to set a minimum national standard for benefits that all companies must carry, said the plan would drive the young out of the system and urged a cautious, go-slow approach to reforming the system.

"Will we trade in a health care system based on individual freedom for one of government control?" Dole asked. Responding to Mitchell and other Democrats' reminders that Republicans also had resisted Social Security and Medicare, Dole said that both those programs had been more gradual in their changes than health care reform.

In other debate, Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., asserted that Mitchell's bill ignored certain fundamentals of the marketplace. "Market forces work," Packwood said. "Competition works. Price controls don't work.

"I don't know why we have to learn this lesson over and over again. But the Clinton-Mitchell bill wants to try it."

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who first introduced national health insurance legislation in 1970, argued that the need was even greater Tuesday.

"The number of uninsured is higher and rising faster," he said. "Costs continue to escalate. No American family can feel secure that the health insurance protecting them today will be there tomorrow if serious illness strikes."

He added: "Medicare was a defining test a generation ago. Social Security was a defining test in the years of the Depression. This legislation is the defining test for Congress today. …

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