- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday told AARP that she still bears “scars” from her failed health care proposal 13 years ago, but the same problems she tried to address are back, and the atmosphere is ripe to make health care more cost efficient and accessible.

The New York Democrat, who spoke yesterday at a public policy meeting of seniors lobby AARP, also said she is working with a key Senate Democrat on a bill that would reopen the new Medicare prescription-drug program to make improvements. She is working with the Senate Finance Committee’s top Democrat, Max Baucus of Montana, on a proposal that aims to create a regulatory structure to weed out less-effective private drug plans.

The new drug program got off to a rocky start last month because of enrollment glitches and other problems that Democrats say they will continue to point out in advance of this year’s elections. Democrats have introduced several bills to change the new program, and another bill is expected today. Most Republicans maintain that problems are being fixed and legislation is not needed.

Mrs. Clinton yesterday advocated expanding federal health coverage, but suggested balancing that by making the existing systems more efficient and less costly by linking government dollars to results, paying for performance and utilizing health information technology to reduce mistakes.

She said the government is simply not getting its money’s worth for its health care investment and should focus more on prevention.

“We are approaching a real turning point,” Mrs. Clinton told AARP leaders. “Everyone is agreeing we need to address this.”

She cited skyrocketing health care costs, businesses’ struggling to provide benefits and people without health insurance. Business leaders, politicians and health professionals, she said, finally are starting to talk about solutions.

That will require people “checking their ideological baggage at the door” in order to “hammer out what kind of a health care system we want, we need and we can afford,” Mrs. Clinton said.

The senator criticized President Bush for his budget priorities, the new Medicare drug program and his Social Security plan, while repeatedly touting bills that she is sponsoring with key Republicans.

One of those bills, co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, passed the Senate last year and would improve the information technology sector of health care. She also is working with Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, on ways to expand and improve long-term care options.

Expanding access to long-term health care for aging baby boomers tops the AARP’s agenda this year, along with holding back health costs in several ways, such as letting the new Medicare drug program negotiate directly with drug companies for lower prices — something for which Mrs. Clinton and Democrats also have pushed.

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