White House Gears Up To Sell Health-Care Plan

AS President Clinton takes the stage tomorrow to unveil his reform of the health-care industry, waiting in the wings to sell the plan to the public will be Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Wielding unprecedented influence for a first lady, Mrs. Clinton oversaw eight months of work to devise a way to hold down health-care costs, expand medical benefits, and preserve Americans' right to choose their doctors.

The result will shake up the $900 billion health-care system. The plan promises health coverage for all Americans at minimal cost. While the president mulls the financing, only minor hikes in ``sin taxes'' are expected. One possibility will be a nearly $1 per pack hike on cigarettes (75 percent of Americans don't smoke). Liquor lobbyists are fighting to remain exempt.

Mr. Clinton put his wife in charge of a health-care-reform task force shortly after taking office. While the group missed the touted 100-day deadline, it produced the package in time for congressional hearings this year.

Mrs. Clinton kicks off the campaign for congressional support as the first witness before the first hearing - a Sept. 28 joint meeting of New York Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan's Senate Finance Committee and Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy's Labor and Human Resources Committee.

Republicans have unveiled their own versions, which differ significantly from the Democrats' concept. But the White House and the GOP boast of similarities, which makes passage of some reform, possibly in six to eight months, almost a foregone conclusion.

Mrs. Clinton's work has won praise from both Republicans and Democrats, who see her as a compromiser. The skill will be essential as the White House goes up against well-heeled industry lobbyists, consumer groups, and the medical community. ``If there are any better, more efficient, less costly, quality-driven ways of doing any of this, we are open to that,'' she told a meeting of state legislators last week.

Senate Republican leader Bob Dole of Kansas said he found her willingness to talk encouraging. ``Nobody has staked out a position and said: `Well, if you don't agree with this, then you're obstructing what we want to do, or you're partisan,' '' he said on CNN's Moneyline.

Mrs. Clinton will join her husband, top administration officials, and supportive interest groups in pushing for strong public support for the plan. The first public event came last Thursday when she and her husband hosted a televised meeting of people whose health-insurance problems had drained them emotionally, physically, and financially.

The next day, she went to Minneapolis to showcase the state's own plan, which has made a start at guaranteeing coverage for the poor. The president went to Washington's Children's Hospital to call for reductions in insurance paperwork.

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