Call it healthcare reform redux.
A legislative effort to help more uninsured families obtain and keep insurance coverage is moving forward in Congress. Such an effort would allow continuation of coverage when employed family members change jobs and prevent insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.
The Kassebaum-Kennedy Health Insurance Reform Act was approved with bipartisan support by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee and is scheduled for full consideration in the Senate next month. Its passage would provide the first solid legislative underpinning for the market-driven changes that are revolutionizing healthcare.
Now, however, an attempt by House Republicans to broaden the bill appears likely to imperil its passage. Shades of the Clinton healthcare reform effort!
One clear lesson that should have been learned from the administration's health reform fiasco is that grandiose, overreaching efforts to overhaul the medical-care system are doomed to fail. Even President Clinton in his January State of the Union address bowed to the inevitable in urging more modest, step-by-step efforts to find common ground within both parties.
House Republicans are taking a hard-nosed attitude in insisting insurance reform legislation must be broadened to accomplish several other goals: limiting medical malpractice awards and creating medical savings accounts. Some Democrats are now exploring adding their own pet topics.
No matter how worthy the legislative proposals being discussed, broadening the bill creates more opportunities for opposition. But, what the heck! Members who face stiff election-day challenges can weigh down a popular bill and still tell voters with a relatively straight face that they worked for change.
Industry leaders are under enormous pressure to support an expanded legislative agenda. But the proper course of action is to focus on expanding insurance coverage. If insurance reform fails, blame will clearly rest at the door of the GOP leadership.
As desirable as it might be to pass tort reform and tackle other healthcare problems, these can wait for the next legislative round.