The White House last week reheated the leftovers of President Clinton's healthcare agenda, and Vice President Al Gore repackaged them to advance his 2000 presidential campaign.
Gore's proposal, announced Sept. 7 during a visit to 216-bed Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, includes numerous items previously proposed by Clinton:
* Passage of "real, enforceable" managed-care reform.
* Use of the expected federal budget surplus to improve Medicare's financial future.
* Creation of a prescription drug benefit under Medicare.
* Passage of a bill to ensure the privacy of medical records.
* Tax breaks for Americans who provide long-term care for their loved ones at home.
While not mentioning the failure of Clinton's national healthcare reform plan in 1994, Gore noted that "step-by-step change is the path to progress" and decried a "one-size-fits-all solution."
Gore's only new proposal was a bid to expand the Children's Health Insurance Program to cover children in families earning up to 250% of the federal poverty level, or $41,000 per year. Families of children who are not eligible for either Medicaid or CHIP could buy into the state-run CHIP programs.
Congress created CHIP in 1997 as part of that year's budget law. It covers uninsured children in low-income families who are not eligible for Medicaid.
The day after Gore's announcement, President Clinton dusted off his checklist of healthcare bills that Congress should pass this fall.
Echoing Gore, Clinton repeated his own calls for managed-care reform, medical records privacy and Medicare reforms, including a drug benefit.
Not to be outdone, former senator Bill Bradley, Gore's only Democratic challenger, promised last week that if elected president he would push for universal health insurance.
Signaling that Medicare will also be a priority for Congress this fall, the Senate Finance Committee is preparing for hearings later this month to work on a Medicare reform bill that could increase provider payments by $5 billion to $7 billion over five years, said Assistant Republican Leader Don Nickles (R-Okla.).
The payments would reverse spending restraints imposed by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. Providers complain that the budget law's payment policies have reduced projected government expenditures by far more than the $115 billion over five years that was forecast in 1997, and they have asked Congress to roll back those policies.
Senate Democratic leaders are said to be preparing a relief package worth as much as $20 billion over 10 years.