Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Democrats Push Health Plan for Poor Children Parents Would Get Subsidies; Gop Calls Proposal `Trojan Horse'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Democrats Push Health Plan for Poor Children Parents Would Get Subsidies; Gop Calls Proposal `Trojan Horse'

Article excerpt

ABANDONING THEIR ambition to overhaul the whole health care system, Democrats now are taking aim at a smaller chunk of the nation's health care enigma: 10 million uninsured children.

Their "Families First" agenda, a campaign platform unveiled by cong ressional Democrats late last month, calls for legislation to get insurance companies to sell coverage for children only and to give federal aid for parents to buy it.

Unlike President Bill Clinton's failed proposal that Congress squabbled over nearly two years ago, this one places no major requirements on businesses and has no requirement that patients join health care alliances and no government guarantee of coverage. It would be available only for children in low-income working families who make too much to qualify for the tax-supported Medicaid insurance program but too little to afford private insurance.

"It's a way to get more kids covered," said House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo. As he and other Democratic policy-makers describe it, the proposal is meant to ease some of workers' anxiety - a key Democratic campaign theme - in an era of corporate downsizing and fewer jobs that offer health care benefits.

The plan is potentially a good first step for broader health care coverage, according to health care analysts. "One-third of the uninsured are children," said Uwe Reinhardt, a health care scholar at Princeton University. "So if they are covered, it would reduce the number by one-third."

Reinhardt warned that the proposal is also likely to renew the question of how to pay for government health care subsidies without increasing the federal deficit - something Democrats said they would avoid.

It's also unclear how the insurance industry, which played a major role in scuttling Clinton's health care overhaul, will react. A spokesman for the Health Insurance Association of America said the trade group is not yet familiar enough with the proposal to comment on it.

For their part, House Republicans were quick to try to link the propo sal to the failed Clinton health care overhaul, suggesting that it's little more than a "Trojan horse" for sneaking in a government-run health care system.

"You need to beware any time politicians promise election-year gimmicks like this," said John Czwartacki, spokesman for the House Republican Conference. He criticized the proposal as "vague," with too few details on how it would work and what it would cost. "If they're promising a whole new entitlement program, we need to know how much it's going to cost," said Czwartacki. The Democrats' proposal reflects a growing trend in the insurance industry and the economy. With fewer employers offering coverage for workers or their dependents, 31 states, including Missouri, now have some private or public effort to give insurance coverage to children as distinct from their parents. …

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