Commission Urges Universal Health Care

A SPECIAL congressional commission recommended Tuesday that the federal government develop a universal health care program, but the panel's members failed to agree on how to raise the estimated $70 billion annually that it would cost to pay for such a plan. Under the health care plan released by the 15-member Pepper Commission, the federal government would be required to cover the unemployed and the poor through a program that replaces and expands Medicaid.

The commission recommended that employers with more than 100 workers provide coverage to its employees and that the federal government use tax credits or subsidies to encourage smaller firms to do the same.

The report also recommended a plan for government-supported long-term health care in the home, community-based facilities, and nursing homes for the elderly and disabled.

The report is virtually identical to the commission's preliminary finding released last March. The final report includes many of the same dissenting comments from commission members.

The Pepper Commission was named for its first chairman, the late Rep. Claude Pepper (D) of Florida. It was established by Congress to recommend a plan to ensure the availability of comprehensive health care for all Americans and long-term health care for the elderly and disabled.

The plan would cost the federal government $70 billion in new spending, according to the final report, which said there are an estimated 30 million Americans who do not have health insurance.

Sen. David Pryor (D) of Arkansas hailed the report as ``a sound, sensible approach to dealing with the nation's health care challenge.''

The commission chairman, Sen. John Rockefeller IV (D) of West Virginia, said: ``With this report, the commission has fulfilled this task. Now the commission calls for action from the Congress and the president to turn its recommendations into law.''

But that will not be an easy task, since the commission experienced deep divisions.

An 8-to-7 majority approved recommendations for access and financing of health care for those under age 65. Recommendations concerning long-term health care and health care for the elderly received 11-to-4 votes.

Rep. Pete Stark (D) of California and John Cogan of the Hoover Institute admonished fellow commission members for failing to state precisely how the $70 billion should be raised. The report offers several options, but fails to take a stand on a specific approach.

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