$4 billion to insure the poor Government panel urges health coverage.


WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration has received another recommendation to broaden the nation's health-care system to protect the uninsured poor.

Various health policy experts estimated that the cost to the federal government would be at least $4 billion a year. Medicaid, a state-federal program, already finances health care for 27 million poor Americans.

A report drafted for an advisory panel appointed by the administration is recommending that Medicaid be expanded to cover doctors' services and hospital care for an estimated 10 million people below the poverty level who have no insurance.

While emphasizing that the panel's work was far from complete, Deborah L. Steelman, chairwoman of the 13-member group and director of domestic policy for George Bush's 1988 campaign, said:

"We've got millions of people under the poverty level with no access to health insurance. This really isn't acceptable. It's not socially acceptable, it's not morally acceptable, and it's not economically smart."

The administration has said it will be guided by her panel's recommendations in developing its own health policy proposals. The panel was appointed by Dr. Louis W. Sullivan, the secretary of health and human services, and includes a wide variety of business executives, labor leaders and health-care experts.

The panel does not specify how to pay for its recommendations.

The panel has not voted on the report, prepared by its staff to reflect a consensus of its members' views. But the recommendation suggests that the panel is willing to consider new investments in health care that are much more substantial than anything proposed by President Bush.

More than 33 million people lack health insurance; about 80 percent are workers or their dependents.

But an overriding theme of the report is that the best way to ease the burden of paying for future health and retirement benefits is to create new jobs generating additional tax revenues.

Even as the panel prepared its report for submission to Sullivan later this year, chief executives of four powerful organizations -- the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association and the Health Insurance Association of America -- adopted a joint statement of principles last month, endorsing "universal access to health care services for all Americans."

The organizations also call for expansion of Medicaid to cover the 10 million uninsured people below the official poverty level.

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