Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Republicans Target Gephardt in Latest Health Care Battle Medical Savings Accounts Become Focus of Debates

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Republicans Target Gephardt in Latest Health Care Battle Medical Savings Accounts Become Focus of Debates

Article excerpt

WITH THE HOUSE and Senate preparing to work out their differences on the latest effort to revise the health care system, the fighting phrase is three words: medical savings accounts.

And the fight is getting ugly - with Republicans accusing House Min ority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., and the administration of President Bill Clinton of flip-flopping on health care, acrobatics that the Democrats deny. But the fireworks belie the shifting policy maneuvers - by both sides - as the landscape of the debate has changed since the failed overhaul by the Clinton administration two years ago.

This time, the GOP leadership is making a last-ditch effort - and courting a presidential veto - to squeeze the tax-sheltered accounts into what started out as a bipartisan bill by Sens. Nancy L. Kassebaum, R-Kan., and Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., to assure workers that they can keep their insurance when they change jobs and to prevent insurance companies from refusing coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.

The House version of the bill includes the accounts, which let people buy a high-deductible insurance plan and get a tax break on savings from which they pay ordinary medical expenses. In a defeat for Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas, the certain GOP presidential candidate, the Senate agreed with Kassebaum, Kennedy and Democrats to keep the provision out of the bill.

Hoping to pressure Clinton and his Democratic allies, Republicans recently released a segment of a 1994 interview with Gephardt in which he endorsed medical savings accounts, then a part of the Democratic plan to guarantee universal coverage. "That's one of our options," Gephardt said in 1994. "It's very popular. A lot of people like that option." Then, he said, "I think it's - it's a great option."

Aha! gloated Republicans, who make the same arguments for including the accounts in the latest bill. It's popular, they say. It's a way to make people cost-conscious by having them spend their own money for health care, and that would reduce health care spending. If Gephardt and the Clintons supported the idea in 1994, why not now - unless they just want to be obstructionist? …

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