- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday announced a $110 billion annual plan to provide all Americans with health insurance, saying she learned valuable lessons on the issue during her attempt to do the same as a first lady.

Republicans quickly labeled the plan a new version of “Hillarycare,” and Mrs. Clinton’s rivals for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination held little back as they criticized her plan and touted their own.

“I have been fighting for universal health care for a long time, and I”ve got to tell you I will never give up on the very fundamental right that Americans should have, to have access to quality, affordable health care, no matter who they are,” said Mrs. Clinton, New York Democrat. “Health care is a right, not a privilege.”

The Clinton “American Health Choices Plan” would mandate every American carry health insurance, in a manner similar to car-insurance mandates, but would allow the insured to keep their existing plans.

The plan’s hefty price tag would be funded by repealing President Bush’s tax cuts and in cutting $56 billion of government medical costs. Citizens and small businesses will get tax credits to help pay for their coverage, she said when first releasing details yesterday morning in Iowa.

Her announcement came as five major Democratic candidates spoke to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), made up primarily of health care workers. SEIU had set an Aug. 1 deadline for the candidates to announce health care plans, having made coverage for 47 million uninsured Americans one of its central issues.

“You will never again have to worry about finding coverage,” she told cheering SEIU members. “We”re not going to let anyone or anything stand in our way.”

The plan would give all Americans three choices — keeping existing coverage, choosing a plan from a new pool of plans similar to what members of Congress are offered or a new public plan similar to Medicare. Under each option, costs would be lower and preventive medicine required, Mrs. Clinton said.

When describing her plan, she used the word “simple” and stressed it would create no new “bureaucracy,” an attempt to ward off critics who blasted her proposal in the 1990s as complicated. But her plan sparked almost instantaneous rebukes from Republicans seeking the presidency, who dubbed it “Hillarycare 2.0” and “Hillarycare, redux.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney labeled the Clinton plan “bad medicine,” and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani told the Associated Press the Clinton plan was a “pretty clear march to socialized medicine.” The Republican National Committee declared: “Just Like ‘93, Hillary’s Plan Full Of Washington Mandates And Costs That Don’t Add Up.”

Mrs. Clinton yesterday quipped that she wears Republican criticism as a “badge of honor,” but her Democratic rivals said they have a better chance of getting something passed because of her history.

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut seized on a Clinton stump speech joke that she still bears the “scars” from the health care fight 13 years ago, saying it’s not enough to “discount what happened” as “political scars.”

“We missed a critical opportunity,” he said. “If people are going to talk about it, they have also got to be willing to accept responsibility for what happened, and what happened was a failure to bring people together and get the job done.”

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois alluded to the closed-door health care task force meetings during the earlier Clinton efforts, saying: “The real key to passing universal health care reform is the ability to bring people together in a process that is open and transparent.”

Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina received a floor-shaking, sustained standing ovation when announcing his latest plan that he would yank insurance benefits for the president, vice president and Congress if they don’t pass universal health care within six months of his taking office.

A 10-page outline of the Clinton plan explains that citizens would not lose coverage if they change jobs and premiums would be mandated to stay below a certain percentage of household income. Also, government would have to invest in quality-improvement measures and the tax credits for individuals and small businesses.

Diane Rowland, executive vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said there is “a great deal of similarity in the plans,” which “are fundamentally moving toward universal coverage.”

Mrs. Clinton’s provision allowing people to keep their existing coverage is an example of how those “scars” make her more aware of “where all the pitfalls are,” Miss Rowland said.

Voters at SEIU loved the talk of universal health care coverage, but few were familiar with the details or had made up their mind about which plans they liked best. Rochelle Palache, a political organizer for SEIU in Connecticut, lauded Mr. Obama and Mr. Edwards for plans that “would help more people and fight special interests. … I didn’t hear [Mrs. Clinton] really mention that.”

T.J. Janssen, an in-home health care worker from Washington state, said he didn”t like plans from Mr. Obama and Mr. Dodd that would take four years to become a reality.

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