UNINSURED: Clinton Wants Extended Coverage in 2001 Budget
Facing "heavy pressure" from congressional Democrats, President Clinton said Saturday he would include in his FY 2001 budget a "major health care proposal" that would extend health insurance to at least seven million uninsured adults, the Baltimore Sun reports. White House officials said the president is considering several proposals to expand the SCHIP and to encourage states to lure more low-income Americans into Medicaid. Under one proposal taken from Vice President Al Gore's platform, the parents of children who are eligible for SCHIP would be guaranteed health insurance through a $9 billion project that could extend health coverage to seven million adults. Although some policymakers contend that bringing entire families under the umbrella of federal health programs would lead to coverage for more of the nation's 11 million uninsured children, White House policy experts fear a two-tiered federal system in which families eligible for the SCHIP expansion would get better health care coverage than those with Medicaid. Some administration officials have suggested that Congress would have to earmark federal funds to encourage states to improve their Medicaid coverage, which could "significantly raise the cost." Senate Democrats are also urging President Clinton to expand his proposal to offer prescription drug coverage for Medicare recipients by not capping a drug benefit for those seniors with catastrophic illnesses. White House officials said that a "final decision on the shape of the proposal could be weeks away." Nonetheless, the plan "will face a battle in Congress," as Republican leaders favor tax cuts or incentives to encourage uninsured individuals to buy private insurance. Meantime, congressional Democrats are eager to keep the "politically potent" issue alive for the election year, as presidential hopefuls Bill Bradley and Vice President Gore continue to trade barbs over their health care plans. The Sun reports that if the White House proposes a plan more generous than Gore's, it risks undercutting the vice president's claims that Bradley's plan is too expensive. On the other hand, if Clinton proposes a plan more in line with Gore's plan, "he opens himself to Bradley's criticism that the administration has been too timid on the problem." Even some Democrats are not lining up behind Clinton's proposal. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) said some members of Congress on his side of the aisle are concerned that a new push from the White House could undermine efforts to pass a patients' rights bill. "You've got that one six inches from the goal line," he said, adding, "Why now switch to something that's on your own 1-yard line that you need a Hail Mary to get passed?" (Weisman, 1/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.