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Take two aspirin and wake me when we have health care


Our subject for today is health-care reform. Let me apologize in advance.

I know.

You're bored by heath-care reform and by Hillary and especially by the prospect of another TV town meeting. Even Ted Koppel must be tired of health-care talk by now.

If you're like most people, you're busy watching the O.J. hearing, and what you want to know more about is Kato, the blond caretaker/would-be actor who spent much of yesterday on the witness stand. As a former L.A. resident, let me just say that there's a guy who looks exactly like Kato living in every guest house in Los Angeles.

OK. I'm with you. Everyone's with you. The Simpson case is dramatic. Health-care reform is confusing, which isn't quite the same thing.

It isn't that people don't care about the issue. They just don't want to hear about it. The latest Gallup poll numbers pretty much tell the story. Of those polled, 69 percent said they wanted reform. But only 39 percent said they knew enough about Clinton's health-care plan to even discuss its merits.

The plan has been out for months. It has been analyzed in newspapers, on TV specials and probably in Guns and Ammo magazine, and still most of us know virtually nothing about it except that Harry and Louise say it will ruin America.

That's because the plan, even by government standards, is complex. And the one thing you do know about the Clinton proposal is that it's thicker than "War and Peace" and only occasionally lapses into what most of us recognize as the English language.

What I'm saying is that once people hear the words "managed competition" in that order, they're ready to hit the remote.

Now, at least four rival health-care plans have been passed through one congressional committee or another. More are coming. And all they have in common is that each would raise cigarette taxes and that Newt Gingrich opposes them all.

Do you think the idea of all the competing plans is to confuse us or that it was simply a happy coincidence?

There is a problem in all this, of course. The issue is actually important. Congress is probably going to pass some bill. And I've got a feeling they're going to blow it unless we pay attention.

You see, the compromises are coming. And Bill Clinton, the Great Compromiser, the man who never formed a principle he couldn't back away from, may be on the verge of compromising on the big one, which is called universal coverage.

That's not a hard term. It just means everybody is entitled to

health care. It means that if you get sick or lose your job, they can't take your coverage away from you. And it means that if you don't now have a job or if you can't afford insurance, you still get to go to a doctor.

Sure, under all the plans, Bob Dole is still going to have a better shot at a kidney transplant than you are.

But universal coverage does say this much: In 1994, in the richest country in the world (yeah, even with the dollar in free fall), everybody ought to have more-or-less-equal access to the health-care community. Clinton has been adamant on this point. He has insisted universal coverage is non-negotiable. He has even brandished the v-word -- yes, the veto -- regarding any bill that didn't include coverage for all. But you've heard the talk. If you haven't, turn down the O.J. hearing for a minute.

One plan calls for 90 percent coverage, which is 10 percent shy of universal. Another plan wants to produce 95 percent coverage by 2002. And, get this, if we don't make it to 95 percent, the proposal calls for a national commission to make recommendations to Congress, which can ignore them or not.

And people are asking whether this is close enough to universal for Clinton to accept. Well, universal is universal. It's sort of an absolute.

And here's what everyone has to consider. Is health care a privilege or a right? That's the real issue. Single payer or managed care? I don't know. Employer subsidies or payroll tax? You got me. Mandatory alliances or voluntary alliances? I'm starting to doze off.

Here's what I'm sure you care about. If somebody in your family gets sick, you want that person to get quality care. And you won't want to be ruined financially in the process. Is that too much for anyone to ask?

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