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Gore Pushes Health Plan at Venice Clinic : Insurance: The vice president gets a warm welcome from clients at the facility, which serves mostly poor and homeless people. He says plan will attract medical professionals to underserved areas.

September 28, 1993|DOUGLAS P. SHUIT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Vice President Al Gore, in Los Angeles to sell President Clinton's proposed health reform package, discovered the right audience Monday at the Venice Family Clinic.

Gore found himself in the middle of a love fest as he toured the clinic in Venice. He promised its clientele, poor and, for the most part, uninsured, that the Clinton plan would give each an insurance card that would be widely honored among doctors and hospitals.

He also promised free preventive care, including immunizations.

During the 1 1/2-hour tour, Gore slapped hands with youngsters and cooed to babies.

He faced only one tough question, which came from Dr. Earl Rubell, one of the 2,100 clinic volunteers who serve the 10,000 to 12,000 poor, unemployed and homeless patients who stream through the facility each year. Rubell asked what the plan would do to attract physicians and private clinics into the Venice area, which has largely been abandoned by private medicine. Rubell said the clinic was running at capacity and was turning away 30 to 50 patients a day. "Where are these people going to go?" he asked.

Gore replied that providing health care to all Americans would foster new competition. He conceded that today "competition too often takes the form of who can cut loose the sick patients the most quickly to get rid of the extra risk."

But, he said, by mandating coverage for everyone, "we eliminate that kind of competition."

"Poor people, the homeless people, people who have illnesses and are not able to get treatment very easily today suddenly become opportunities. And all of a sudden, because they have the ability to pay for the care, that creates a demand that attracts more health-care professionals to the area where the need is the greatest," he said.

Gore told clinic administrators that the Clinton plan would make it easier for community clinics to get compensated for the free care they give to the poor.

During his visit, Gore met several families.

Marisa Williams, who brought her two children to meet the vice president, told Gore of her problems. Even though her husband works, she said, she can't afford private insurance on her family's $1,100 a month income. However, it is just enough to disqualify her for full benefits under Medi-Cal, the state and federal health care program for the poor.

Gore assured her that she and her family would be fully covered under the new insurance plan and that "nobody will be able to take it away."

Before Gore's visit, Dr. Susan Fleischman, the clinic's health director, said administrators were concerned that illegal immigrants would not be given the same health benefits as naturalized Americans. She said about 25% of the clinic's clientele are illegal immigrants, another 25% are homeless. But those concerns did not come up during a question-and answer-session with the vice president.

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