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Clinton Says Health Reform Needed for Economic Revival : Insurance: But Gov. Wilson says plan for employers to pay 80% of premiums would harm small companies.


WASHINGTON — President Clinton stepped up his campaign for health care reform Saturday, saying in his weekly radio address that overhauling the nation's medical system not only will guarantee coverage for every American, but also is the next logical step toward lower deficits and economic revival.

But with many important decisions still to be made, the President offered no new details of his plan. Instead, he promoted the benefits of health care reform and warned of the consequences of "doing nothing."

In the Republican response, California Gov. Pete Wilson criticized a central element of Clinton's plan: a requirement that employers provide at least 80% of every worker's insurance premiums.

"By placing the financial burden on employers," Wilson said, "the President's plan could push struggling small businesses over the edge and put people out of work."

The so-called employer mandate is quickly emerging as the most contentious element of Clinton's agenda--now that the White House has said it will not seek a broad-based tax to finance health reform.

Wilson's criticism of the employer mandate came five days after a similar attack by small-business lobbyist John Motley in an address to the nation's governors in Tulsa, Okla. Motley's remarks preceded Clinton's own appearance before the National Governors' Assn., and prompted the President to toss out much of his prepared speech and launch into a spirited defense of the employer mandate.

In his radio address, taped before he left Washington for vacation on the Massachusetts island resort of Martha's Vineyard, the President said that without comprehensive reform, "we can't guarantee quality health care to many U.S. citizens. We can't guarantee health for U.S. businesses who are spending too much on health care today.

"And we can't guarantee that millions of workers won't be deprived of their wage increases because they'll have to pay more and more and more every year for the same, or less, health coverage."

To ease the burden of the employer mandate, Administration officials have said, small businesses will be granted a phase-in period of five to seven years. In addition, Clinton said, "the very smallest firms and the lowest wage firms" will receive "some modest subsidies."

Evoking a theme that his senior advisers believe will resonate with the public, Clinton said:

"Doing nothing means more and more Americans losing their coverage. Doing nothing means allowing insurance to dictate prices, charging whatever they want to whomever they want.

"Doing nothing means continuing a system in which anonymous bureaucrats peer into every hospital and doctors' offices and second-guess medical decisions. Doing nothing means no wage increases for millions of workers. Not to mention the most important thing of all: more fear, anxiety and insecurity on the part of our citizens.

"And amazingly, doing nothing is the most expensive thing of all. It means about 100,000 Americans a month will join the nearly 40 million already without health insurance. And we will continue to spend much, much more of our income on health care than any other people on Earth."

The President said his plan "will guarantee all Americans the security of knowing they won't lose their health coverage, even if they switch jobs, lose a job, get sick, have a family member who gets sick, move to a new city, or start a small business."

He also said the reforms will cut down on spending caused by health care fraud and abuse, malpractice insurance, unnecessary medical tests and procedures and inefficient administration.

"Unless we provide quality and affordable health care, we can't bring this federal deficit down to zero and balance the budget," he said.

Clinton is expected to make the final decisions on the elements of his health reform agenda after returning to Washington next Sunday. He is scheduled to outline his agenda Sept. 22 in a speech to a joint session of Congress.

In the GOP response, Wilson said there is much that Republicans can agree on with the Clinton Administration, but that the employer mandate is not one of them.

Wilson also appeared Saturday on CNN's interview program "Evans & Novak," during which he said that he intends to stand by his controversial call for the federal government to cut off welfare benefits for illegal immigrants and for a constitutional amendment to deny citizenship to children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants.

"The fact of the matter is, anyone who is going to be honest and have the guts to discuss this is going to encounter charges of racism, of immigrant-bashing. I am not going to be deterred by that because, in fact, what is going on is simply unacceptable," Wilson said.

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