Politics & Government

Clinton proposes new health care plan

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks about her health care policy.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks about her health care policy. Charlie Neibergall / AP

DES MOINES, Iowa — Hillary Clinton asked for a second chance Monday to get health care right, insisting that this time she'd be able to get Congress and the country to provide health insurance to the nation's uninsured.

"It's long past time that Americans and the richest of all countries realize that health care is a right and not a privilege," Clinton told a union meeting in Chicago on Monday.

"I intend to be the president who accomplishes that goal finally for our country," she said later at a hospital in Des Moines, where she laid out the details of her plan.

The New York senator and Democratic presidential candidate would mandate that all Americans buy health insurance — much as states require all drivers to have licenses.

She'd let the uninsured buy into two existing government insurance programs or buy private insurance, offer them financial help in paying premiums and help small businesses cover their employees.

She'd pay for the $110 billion-a-year price tag by raising taxes on those making more than $250,000 and by taxing companies that don't insure their employees.

"If you're one of tens of millions of Americans without coverage or if you don't like the coverage you have, you will have a choice of plans to pick from and you'll get tax credits to help pay for it. If you like the plan you have, you can keep it," she said.

Clinton, whose effort to enact universal health care during her husband's administration failed in 1994, was seeking to flesh out her credentials on what has become a threshold issue for Democratic voters.

Her plan was similar to those already proposed by her most competitive rivals for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina also would mandate that every American buy insurance. He would raise taxes on incomes above $200,000 to pay for it. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois would mandate coverage for children while offering expanded government help to uninsured adults.

Clinton and her rivals differ starkly from the Republican presidential candidates, however, none of whom would mandate coverage and all of whom flatly rule out raising taxes to pay for expanded care.

"Hillary-care continues to be bad medicine," said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in a cutting reference to the label given to her 1993-1994 proposal. He denounced her plan as "government insurance instead of private insurance."

Romney himself mandated that everyone in his state buy health insurance — the only one of the major party candidates who's enacted anything close to universal health care. But he's dropped the mandate from his national proposal, saying he'd leave that up to individual states.

While Democratic candidates clash over the details of who has the best and boldest plan, Democratic voters may focus instead on personal style and which candidate has the best prospects for enacting universal health care — a party dream since Harry Truman first proposed it sixty years ago.

Edwards played to that audience immediately Monday, saying he would move to cut off government insurance for himself, the Congress and political appointees in the federal government if universal health care were not approved midway through his first year as president.

And he took a shot at Clinton's repeated statement that she's got political scars from her first health care proposal.

"The cost of failure 14 years ago isn't anybody's scars or political fortune," Edwards told the union gathering in Chicago, "it's the millions of Americans who have now gone without health care for more than 14 years and the millions more still crushed by the costs."

Obama, for his part, issued this statement:

"I commend Senator Clinton for her health-care proposal. It's similar to the one I put forth last spring, though my universal health care plan would go further in reducing the punishing cost of health care than any other proposal. ...

"But the real key to passing any health care reform is the ability to bring people together. ... That's how I was able to pass health care reform in Illinois that covered an additional 150,000 children and their parents, and that's how we'll prevent the drug and insurance industry from defeating our reform efforts like they did in 1994."

Clinton herself had the best chance to enact universal health care in half a century in 1993 and 1994. Her husband had just won the White House with a promise of expanding coverage to the uninsured and her party controlled Congress and was eager to adopt a comprehensive plan.

But Clinton devised her plan in secret, then proposed such a complicated system that it invited ridicule and was savaged in a TV ad campaign launched by the insurance industry. Democrats in Congress never even voted on the proposal.

She has worked to turn her failure into an advantage, telling Democrats that she learned from the experience not to overreach with an unwieldy government plan that can be demonized by a clever ad campaign.

She called her new proposal "simpler" than her old one, stressing that it would still give Americans the choice of private insurance and their own doctors.

"This is not government run," she said. "There will be no new bureaucracies. You can keep the doctors you know and trust."

She also came equipped with support from both a corporate CEO and a union boss.

"Her innovative plan has the potential to cover all Americans and improve the value we receive from our health care investment," said Kodak CEO Antonio Perez.

"We are counting on Hillary Clinton to deliver health care for all of America's families," said Tom Buffenbarger, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Democrats trust her more than any rival on the issue, polls show, perhaps taking to heart her repeated claim that she learned from the failure and knows better than anyone how to make the deals needed to get it enacted.

A Gallup poll last month found that 65 percent of Americans trust her to do the right thing on health care — highest for any presidential candidate in either party — followed by Obama, Edwards and Republican Rudy Giuliani.

Among Democrats, 91 percent said they trusted Clinton, 81 percent trusted Obama and 75 percent trusted Edwards.

WHAT THE OTHER TOP TWO LEADING DEMOCRATS PROPOSE:

— John Edwards would order employers to provide health care or pay up; create a government health insurance to compete with private insurance companies; expand Medicaid for the poor and the SCHIP program for children; and eventually mandate that every American have insurance.

"My plan is not cheap," Edwards said Sunday, adding that he would raise taxes on those making more than $200,000 a year to pay the $90 billion-$120 billion annual cost.

— Barack Obama would require employers not providing insurance to help pay for national insurance; create a government health insurance plan with benefits comparable to those offered to federal employees; expand Medicaid for the poor and the SCHIP program for children; and mandate that all children have insurance.

For more on the Clinton plan, go to www.hillaryclinton.com

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