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Let's Not Quibble With Our Health : Clinton's plan isn't perfect. But if it fails, many Americans will lose the opportunity of a lifetime's peace of mind.

September 22, 1993|CATHERINE O'NEILL | Catherine O'Neill of Los Angeles is co-founder of the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children.

We have an irrational health-care delivery system in our country, one that decides that only if you are over 65, poor, very rich or a public employee do you have the relative security of knowing that your basic health-care needs will be taken care of.

Everyone else is on their own. As people lose jobs, get excluded from health-insurance plans because of "pre-existing conditions" and watch corporate plans being cut back, reality is sinking in.

Tonight, President Clinton, who was elected with health-care security as a central theme of his campaign, will address the nation on the plan he intends to send to Congress. Everyone who listens will have a quibble; there should be a "single payer" plan, some health-care services should be more tightly rationed as Oregon has done, too much of the burden is being borne by small business, a value-added tax should pay for it.

I share many of those "quibbles." But it is "quibbles" and the failure of Congress and uninterested administrations that have left us in this predicament. If this chance passes, we cannot be fooled into thinking that a new national health-care effort will be undertaken in the near future.

For everyone who feels there is a chance of losing a job and the health insurance it carries, for everyone secure in a job who understands that from now on corporations will be reducing the health-benefits packages of their employees because of costs and for the self-employed, creative people who contribute so much to the economy of Southern California, the moment is now to let our Congressional representatives know we want a basic health-care package passed this Congressional term, and no excuses will be accepted.

We in Los Angeles have some voice in what happens. The chairman of the house subcommittee that will review the plan is Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), who has long collected vast political contributions from the health-care industry. Thus far, Waxman, who in his 14 years chairing the health subcommittee has failed to get a plan for all sent before Congress, has only publicly expressed quibbles.

He does not want Medicare or Medicaid cut too much. We all know that the lobby of senior citizens is one of the most powerful of political voices; Waxman has been very responsive to their requests. All federal employees, including Waxman and his family, now benefit from one of the best health-care plans in the nation. Many of them won't be as happy with the plan proposed by the President tonight. Federal employees will have the same level of health insurance as the rest of us. That's as it should be.

Waxman also needs to listen to the voices of people in his district who are not Medicare recipients, but whose hearts are heavy with concerns over health care--the actresses who have had breast cancer and worry that they are "uninsurable" if they cannot meet the minimum annual earnings required by the Screen Actors Guild for health insurance eligibility, the young people who do not get health insurance with their odd jobs in cafes and restaurants, the employed people who live in terror that they will lose their jobs and with it the care for their painful back problems.

Tonight, Clinton will share with us his imperfect plan to release us from that chronic underlying anxiety. There should be no greater domestic political priority than getting a basic health-care package passed with all deliberate speed.

Clinton should hold the North American Free Trade Agreement, which many Republicans so badly want, hostage to their support for his health-care program. Both parties should work together to make basic health care a reality for all Americans. They share responsibility for their failure to act before we reached this crisis stage.

Each of us, in our families and in our friendships, is reminded daily how fragile is that thing called health. A compassionate, democratic society should not make access to care a gamble. Too many people will lose.

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