NOT SINCE Dorothy skipped up the yellow brick road has Kansas presented anyone quite as appealing as its junior senator, Nancy Landon Kassebaum. As she moves toward the close of a distinguished 18-year legislative career, Senator Kassebaum is co-sponsor (along with Democrat Edward M. Kennedy) of a sensible first-step reform of the nation's health care system.
Senate passage of the Kassebaum-Kennedy measure by a rare 100-0 vote reflects strong popular backing. It would be unforgivable if this measure were encrusted in conference committee with amendments that would lead to its defeat or veto. Mrs. Kassebaum set the right course when she voted against additions she herself favors.
Americans should spurn complaints that her bill fails to achieve the grandiose transformation proposed by the administration in 1993. President Clinton now acknowledges he "set the Congress up for failure" by seeking to do too much too soon and by "dissing" Republican alternatives that would have gone much further than the Kassebaum-Kennedy measure.
Of more immediate concern, however, is whether Kansas' senior senator, presidential hopeful Bob Dole, will also overreach by not sticking with the Nancy Kassebaum approach. He's on the conference committee; she is not.
The Senate bill is neither incremental nor inconsequential. Some 25 million Americans are caught in "job lock" -- fearful of quitting their jobs because they cannot take their health insurance with them or because they have an existing medical condition that could lead to the denial of a new policy. The pending legislation would guarantee the "portability" of such insurance coverage. It would also increase the tax deduction for health insurance costs incurred by some 17 million self-employed.
Against Mrs. Kassebaum's advice, the Senate tacked an amendment to her legislation that would require health insurance coverage of mental as well as physical ailments. This is a laudable concept -- one that will someday materialize -- but it has drawn fierce opposition from a cost-conscious business community.
Far more partisan is a Republican proposal to allow tax deductions for so-called medical savings accounts. Senator Dole was humiliated last week when five GOP senators combined with Senate Democrats to defeat his effort to add this to the Kassebaum-Kennedy bill. Senator Dole would be well advised to drop this idea, which is in the House bill, rather than make it a veto-bait amendment that would wreck prospects for any health care reform this year. He should, in short, take a walk on Nancy Kassebaum's road to realism.
Pub Date: 4/25/96