STATE OF THE UNION I: HEALTH CARE IS THE FOCUS
President Clinton used his annual State of the Union addressThis is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.
last night to outline several health care initiatives, including
allowing the near elderly to buy into Medicare, expanding federal
investment in biomedical research, enacting the $368.5 billion
tobacco settlement and ensuring patients' rights for managed care
consumers. The New York Times reports, "Two years after he
declared the end of the era of big government, Mr. Clinton
painted a sweeping landscape of federal activism, from subsidies
for care of babies to expansion of the health-care program for
the elderly" (Broder, 1/28). Clinton urged Congress to pass his
consumer "bill of rights," a measure the AP/Arkansas Democrat
Gazette reports is "meant to assure patients access to
specialists, broad information about their health plans and the
right to appeal denials of care" and to outlaw "discrimination
based on genetic information" (see related story). The president
endorsed congressional approval of bipartisan, comprehensive
legislation that would "reduc[e] teen smoking, [affirm] the FDA's
regulation of nicotine, [hold] tobacco companies responsible for
child marketing, improv[e] public health and [protect] the
economic well-being of tobacco farmers" (see related story). In
addition, he proposed to increase spending for biomedical
research by $1.15 billion, "with financing for the National
Institutes of Health increasing by 50% over five years" (1/28).
VYING FOR BOOMER VOTES?
Clinton's "signature proposal" was his plan to use every bit
of an estimated "$200 billion budget surplus over the next five
years to help ensure Social Security solvency for the tens of
millions of baby boomers who will soon begin retiring," the
Baltimore Sun reports (Cannon/West, 1/28). "Tonight I propose
that we reserve ... every penny of any surplus ... to strengthen
the Social Security system for the 21st century," the president
said (transcript, 1/27). Today's Wall Street Journal reports
that "President Clinton's State of the Union address opened what
is sure to be years of political jousting for the hearts and
minds of aging baby boomers." The president not only promised
Baby Boomers that "Social Security will be there" when they
retire, but he also "repeated his proposal" to let them "buy
health coverage under Medicare" (Harwood/Calmes, 1/28).
"Millions of Americans between the ages of 55 and 65 have lost
their health insurance. Some are retired. Some are laid off.
Some lose their coverage when their spouses retire. After a
lifetime of work, they are left with nowhere to turn. So I ask
the Congress, let these hard-working Americans buy into the
Medicare system. It won't add a dime to the deficit, but the
peace of mind it will provide will be priceless," Clinton said
last night (transcript, 1/27).
Clinton's contention that the Medicare expansion would not
add to program costs "prompted nos and snickers from skeptical
Republicans," CongressDaily/A.M. reports (1/28). In the
Republican Response to the State of the Union address, Senate
Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) said, "We protected Medicare.
And in that same way, we're going to protect Medicare this year
against any changes that would imperil its financial stability"
(1/27). The Baltimore Sun reports that "Republicans ... disputed
that Clinton could expand Medicare ... without significantly
increasing government spending and regulation" (1/28). The
Orlando Sentinel reports that Sen. Connie Mack (R-FL) questioned
Clinton's Medicare proposal. "To imply you can expand Medicare
with no costs, I'm not sure the administration is being truthful.
I have some concerns maybe they played with the numbers a little
bit" (Lytle, 1/28).
Sen. John Breaux (D-LA), chair of the new Medicare reform
commission, said his panel "would be looking at" Clinton's
proposal. "That's one suggestion. Our job is to make sure that
whatever we do strengthens Medicare for seniors, not weaken it.
And we will debate that issue and we'll make a recommendation in
March of next year. Hopefully it'll be one that the Congress can
enact into law" ("Crossfire," CNN, 1/27). A New York Times
editorial notes, "The main flaw of the balanced-budget agreement
of last year was that it failed to address the long-term health
of the nation's expensive entitlement programs, mainly Social
Security and Medicare. If Mr. Clinton's proposal last night gets
Congress to deal with these problems in a bipartisan way, it will
be a major accomplishment of his administration" (1/28).
In the GOP response, Lott noted other "important subjects
that Congress will deal with" in the coming session, including
"ending the dreadful practice of partial-birth abortions." He
said, "I urge our Democratic colleagues in the Senate to help us
override the president's second veto of that legislation" (1/27).
GOOD SEAT FOR NIH
Underscoring Clinton's commitment to biomedical research,
NIH Director Harold Varmus, "a Nobel Prize winner and professor
from the University of California at San Francisco," was seated
next to first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in the House gallery
last night (Freedburg,
San Francisco Chronicle, 1/28).
CBS' Dan Rather called the Clinton speech "lean and direct,
tightly focused." In it, Rather said the president "[laid] out
what he sees as the Democratic party's best themes." However,
Rather said the speech consisted of a "lot of policy and a little
politics, but not much passion, not much philosophy. Anybody who
was hoping for a new, soaring, overarching theme may have been
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