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Clinton Says She Took Wrong Turn on Health Care in '93

By Mary Agnes Carey, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

October 18, 2007 -- Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York said Thursday her health care proposal provides a "sensible, centrist" approach to achieving universal coverage, and that if elected president, she would work closely with Congress to craft legislation, conceding that the White House task force that assembled her 1993 health care plan was the wrong approach.

"I know how important it is to work out the details in consultation with Congress," Clinton said, adding that she has "no intention" of producing specific legislation, but rather providing a framework with specifics to come later.

Speaking at a presidential forum hosted by Families USA and the Federation of American Hospitals, Clinton dismissed claims from her Republican opponents that her health care plan would add to the federal bureaucracy. She described such charges as "old tired accusations" and said that the GOP candidates' proposals on health care "would not help the vast majority of Americans."

"This is a different plan, this is a different time, this is a different country when it comes to health care," she said. Fixing problems with the nation's health care system "will require a lot of political will," she said. Health care will be her highest domestic policy priority and that she plans to "get it done" in her first term as president, Clinton said.

"The playbook that has been brought out every election is out of date," Clinton said. Her plan to offer a menu of health care choices similar to those that federal employees—including members of Congress—receive would simply add more competition to the health care marketplace, she said. "What are we afraid of? Let's see where the competition leads us."

On Medicare, Clinton said she would allow the government to negotiate prescription drug prices for beneficiaries and said that "inefficiencies and exorbitant costs" in the Medicare drug benefit "must be examined."

A report released Monday by the Democratic staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee concluded that the administrative costs of the Medicare drug benefit, which is run by private insurers, are almost six times higher than the administrative costs of the traditional Medicare program, adding up to about $180 per person—or almost $5 billion—in 2007.

Clinton said the 12 million undocumented immigrants now in the United States would receive emergency room care and treatment for "acute medical services," but would not otherwise be covered under her plan. "As a general rule, people who are here illegally would not be eligible" for coverage, Clinton said, saying that the focus must be on expanding health care for U.S. citizens and legal immigrants.

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