- The Washington Times - Friday, June 20, 2003

From combined dispatches

Nearly 10 years ago, foes of the Clinton universal health plan had a field day with an incredibly elaborate flow chart that made a complex system seem utterly incomprehensible.

Yesterday, it was Hillary’s turn.

Invoking some of the arguments that killed her attempt to overhaul the national health care system a decade ago, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, said a new Republican-favored bill could create a Medicare maze of confusing bureaucracy.

The New York Democrat said the plan would make it hard for seniors to compare apples with apples when they would have to deal with “apples to oranges to kumquats to bananas to whatever else is in the fruit basket.”

“Why are we creating these obstacles, this Rube Goldberg system that is going to be extremely hard to explain and very hard to understand?” Mrs. Clinton said in her Senate floor presentation.

The former first lady showed off a large blue chart crammed with a jumble of boxes and arrows representing premiums, co-payments and insurance companies. It recalled another mocking chart, one used by Republicans in 1994 describing the Clinton administration’s health care plan as a bewildering bundle of bureaucratic inefficiency.

The comparison did not escape Sen. Craig Thomas, Wyoming Republican.

“The senator from New York represents quite a different point of view than several years past,” Mr. Thomas said.

An aide to Mrs. Clinton declined to comment on the irony or whether any of it was tongue in cheek.

Mrs. Clinton fought unsuccessfully in 1993 and 1994 to expand affordable health care to all Americans. The initiative died after industry interests and many members of Congress resisted, charging people’s personal health decisions would become enmeshed in red tape.

The junior senator from New York spoke for half an hour on the Senate floor yesterday, inveighing against any prescription-benefit plan that would be too complicated for many seniors to navigate and too rigid for others to become eligible.

“I believe that this legislation to provide a Medicare prescription-drug benefit holds tremendous promise and also tremendous peril,” said Mrs. Clinton, who has not decided whether to vote for the package.

“I don’t understand why it has to be so complicated, why we have to create a new government agency,” the senator said.

Her chart, she said, represented the myriad rules and requirements that could be imposed under a Medicare bill now being debated in the Senate, a measure designed to increase older Americans’ drug benefits in part by attempting to bring into the Medicare system competition among private health insurance companies.

Mrs. Clinton, who in her new memoir writes of tremendous disappointment in her failure to get the 1994 health initiative passed, yesterday said she has learned lessons from the experience.

“Obviously, I know more about the process today than then,” she said. “It’s something I’ve worked on and worried about for a long time,” noting her very first speech on the Senate floor was about health care.

Mrs. Clinton said she wanted the speech “to lay down some markers” about pieces of the legislation that concern her.

She said the current proposal raises “a lot of big, big questions for me,” especially its potential effects on the low-income elderly, and worries that House Republicans and the White House are “beginning to dismantle” Medicare.

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