- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s second attempt at health care reform is haunted by the ghost of her ill-fated 1994 proposal, a massive 1,342-page plan that Republicans denounced as socialized medicine and that Democrats refused to bring up for a vote.

The New York senator’s newest reforms similarly call for universal coverage, federal mandates on employers, higher income taxes and government subsidies that critics also called socialized medicine, and Republican health care analysts said will likely invite even tougher scrutiny.

“People are going to take a much more critical look at Hillary Clinton’s proposal because of her history. Everybody is going to be looking at the fine print, and people are already finding things they don’t like about it,” said Grace-Marie Turner, a veteran health care analyst at the Galen Institute.

Indeed, within hours after Mrs. Clinton had presented her plan, it was coming under fierce political assault from Republicans who were denouncing it with the same words used to bring down her previous proposal 13 years ago.

“The key element of Hillary Clinton’s plan is a sweeping government mandate requiring all Americans to buy health insurance,” said Pat Toomey, president of the Club for Growth and a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania. “Instead of socialized medicine, presidential candidates should be embracing” a plan to offer more choices, increase competition and make “health care more affordable to everyone.”

In the past, Mrs. Clinton has acknowledged her mistakes in the health care reform effort she led early in the Clinton administration. This time, however, she denied that her new plan bore any similarity to the last one.

“Don’t let them fool us again. This is not government-run,” she said.

That’s not the way her Republican rivals for the presidency see it.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney compared her approach to the socialist welfare programs of “European bureaucracies,” charging that “HillaryCare continues to be bad medicine … in her plan, we have Washington-managed health care.”

Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said her “latest health scheme includes more government mandates, expensive federal subsidies and more big bureaucracy — in short, prescription for an increase in wait times, a decrease in patient care and tax hikes to pay for it all.”

But even conservative policy strategists, such as Ms. Turner, said Mrs. Clinton may face a friendlier environment this time.

“Many people are anxious about the cost of health insurance,” Ms. Turner said. “It’s not just about the uninsured any longer. It’s also about the middle class worried that they are going to lose their coverage.”

Another factor that strategists say is working in her favor is that, unlike 1994 when her first plan was presented to Congress as a legislative proposal, Mrs. Clinton’s plan is being offered in a campaign.

“In the primaries and general election, this will probably be a big winner for her. She has chosen to take on the insurance companies, a group that everyone likes to attack,” said Charles Kahn, president of the Federation of American Hospitals.

One of the obstacles Mrs. Clinton and her husband’s administration were unable to overcome in 1994 was the overwhelming complexity of her plan, and there were signs yesterday that this may be a problem again this time.

The Clinton campaign touted her plan as “simple” yesterday, and the Service Employees International Union members who packed the Washington Hilton ballroom enthusiastically cheered much of her speech. But when she said, “Here’s how my plan will work,” and began a detailed explanation, the room fell silent.

The audience’s enthusiasm was restored later when she told them, “I realize that I will never be the insurance industry’s woman of the year.”

c Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

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