Democratic Leaders Press For Health Cost Restraints

PRESIDENT Clinton's call for restraints on medical expenditures is getting a new push from Democratic leaders who see no way to pay for universal health coverage without it.

Clinton's proposed caps on insurance premiums haven't stirred as much controversy as his requirement that employers pay for most of their workers' health insurance and his compulsory insurance-purchasing alliances.

But price controls in any form are anathema to most Republicans, and the health care industry is ready to wage war on the premium caps if they start showing signs of life.

Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, (D) of Illinois, the Ways and Means Committee chairman, stood with union and corporate chiefs last week to proclaim that universal health coverage will be impossible without ``credible cost containment.'' And Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D) of Maine took Democratic senators to school for a lesson on why the White House's ``backstop'' premium caps are still necessary.

In 1965, when both Medicare and Medicaid were created, Americans spent less than 6 percent of the gross domestic product on health; today the country spends more than 14 percent.

According to a Washington Post-ABC News Poll on May 17, 44 percent of Americans approve of Clinton's health-care plan, while 50 percent disapprove.

In Washington, Hillary Rodham Clinton met with 11 children whose families face health-care crises to appeal for reform. ``It is absolutely one of the biggest lies that has been put forward during this whole health-care debate that we don't need to reform health care because eventually everybody gets taken care of,'' she said. ``Eventually you get taken care of, (but) often it's too late.'' US easing pressure on Japan?

PRESIDENT Clinton's top economic adviser said in remarks published on May 17 that it may be time to adjust US trade policy toward Japan because Tokyo's new government may be unable to produce a deal.

``The issue here is ... trying to moderate or adjust the timing to the political realities in Japan without changing the overall thrust of the policy,'' Laura D'Andrea Tyson, head of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said in an interview with the Washington Post. Ms. Tyson was cited as saying the administration may have to focus on the part of its trade policy aimed at bringing down Japan's global trade surplus.

On that issue, the Clinton administration can find allies in Japan, including the new prime minister, Tsutomo Hata, the newspaper paraphrased her as saying.

Mr. Hata presides over a shaky minority coalition government that may not last more than a month or two - an upheaval that no one could have predicted a year ago, she said.

``A policy which is sensible under one set of circumstances may have to be adjusted to a set of circumstances which no one ... predicted would be the case,'' she said.

Despite a year of confrontation, the administration has failed to get specific commitments from Japan to cut its overall trade surplus or to open its markets wider to foreign goods such as auto parts, insurance coverage, and computers and telecommunications equipment.

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