Slow Is Better

THIS week's hyperactivity in the Senate continues the impression that there is a health-care crisis to which lawmakers are valiantly seeking a solution.

But the assumptions of a ``crisis'' and a near-at-hand ``solution'' should be reassessed.

Clearly, reform is needed. Those seeking medical treatment should not fear that they will lose their life savings for lack of insurance. Universal access to health coverage is needed. Allowing insurers to deny policies to those with preexisting medical conditions is not an element of a just and compassionate society. Workers who change employers, an ever-more-frequent occurrence in our volatile workplace, should not lose coverage. And some means must be found to contain health-care costs if they are not to crowd out all else and ruin the American economy.

But right now the public seems to view these problems less as a ``crisis'' than as a chronic problem needing a thoughtful solution. Ironically, the improving economy, for which President Clinton deserves his share of credit, means fewer Americans fear losing their jobs and hence losing coverage.

It thus becomes a political ploy when the Clinton administration creates an air of desperation surrounding health reform and seeks to enact legislation - seemingly any legislation - in the 84 days remaining until the November congressional elections.

Why not let the elections become a referendum on health care? The debate would then get the wide hearing it deserves; voters could send lawmakers back to Washington who represent their current feelings. Next spring, Congress could act unimpinged by the political constraints of an impending election.

The current frantic atmosphere is not conducive to careful reform. The House awaits the Senate. The Senate still seeks dollar figures from a badly overburdened Congressional Budget Office to plug into its bills. No single bill seems close to gaining a consensus. Lobbyists are making unprecedented efforts to bend bills to their interests. Will there be time to uncover and examine these? New bills seem to spring forth daily, while the plan offered by Senate majority leader George Mitchell changes like a chameleon.

Do Americans really want a new government-run health plan or, more simply, a reform of the private health-insurance industry? With such fundamental questions unanswered, why shouldn't lawmakers slow down and solicit an essential view - that of their constituents?

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