Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Clinton Hints at Compromise on `Medical Savings Account'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Clinton Hints at Compromise on `Medical Savings Account'

Article excerpt

President Bill Clinton signaled on Wednesday that he might be willing to accept some version of the controversial medical savings account.

In a plea for bipartisanship on a range of issues, Clinton stuck to the harsh description of the tax-sheltered form of high-deductible insurance, but for the first time he qualified the kind of medical savings account he objected to.

"If we want health insurance reform, leave out the poison pill of nationwide, unrestricted, permanent medical savings accounts," Clinton said.

Asked later whether the president meant that he was open to the accounts as a test-pilot program, Mike McCurry, the White House press secretary, replied, "I think when he said `permanent, nationwide' medical savings accounts, he chose those words very deliberately."

Republicans gloated. "I'd say the White House opposition to (the savings accounts) is cracking," said Ginny Koops, spokeswoman for the GOP-led Senate Finance Committee. "I think the president is going to sign a bill, and (the accounts) will be in it."

Republicans are pushing to include such accounts in a larger health-insurance reform bill that would allow people to keep coverage when they lost or changed jobs.

The House included medical savings accounts in its bill; the Senate stripped them from its plan, but a conference committee gives supporters another chance at including them in the final legislation.

Until Wednesday, Clinton and congressional Democrats had publicly voiced nothing but staunch opposition to the accounts.

They had maintained that the accounts would skim off the healthiest and wealthiest, leaving other insurance to cover the sickest and raising insurance premiums. They also had argued that including the accounts in health reform would unleash a feeding frenzy of competing health-care lobbying. And such lobbying, they argued, would doom enactment of a bipartisan measure to forbid insurance companies from excluding people with prior ailments and allowing workers to take their insurance with them from job to job. …

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