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September 6, 2000: Column on Expanding Healthcare Benefits

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First Lady


Hillary Rodham Clinton

September 6, 2000

Congress is back in session. However, with only a few weeks remaining before they hit the campaign trail, lawmakers face a daunting task: They must finish work on 13 spending bills before they leave town.

At the top of the Republican leadership's list of priorities this week, though, is not an appropriations bill, but rather an attempt to override the President's veto of the estate tax bill -- a measure that would extend sizable tax cuts to 54,000 of America's wealthiest families. The estate tax bill is just one illustrative piece of a $2 trillion tax cut proposal that, taken together, would spend our hard-won surplus and harm the economy.

The American people are too smart to favor unfair and fiscally irresponsible tax cuts. In fact, everywhere I go, hardworking middle-class citizens tell me they want a government that responds to the pressing issues that affect their daily lives. They would support tax cuts targeted to help families afford health care, college tuition and long-term care, as well as those that encouraged businesses to protect our environment and invest in our new markets.

They don't want to see our surplus squandered. Rather, they want to see our lawmakers invest in national priorities like paying off the debt, increasing the minimum wage and strengthening the solvency of Social Security and Medicare. They don't favor massive cuts that would return us to a time when investing in education or a Medicare benefit for prescription drugs was an impossible dream.

Earlier this week, as my husband laid out his legislative agenda for the coming weeks, he said, "It's time to put progress before partisanship, and get back to work for the American people."

He's right. It's time to pass a prescription drug benefit for our seniors. It's time to pass a meaningful Patients' Bill of Rights. It's time to invest in education and other key priorities. It's time to approve common sense gun safety measures. It's time to pass legislation to prevent hate crimes and combat violence against women. And it's time to provide affordable health insurance for low-income families.

While our booming economy has improved the lives of most Americans, too many people still have not reaped the full benefits of our prosperity. Over 44 million lack health insurance coverage, most because they simply can't afford it. Extending coverage to these hardworking families is a top priority for this administration. One of the key items on the President's legislative agenda would expand benefits to cover the neediest 25 percent.

Expanding coverage is not only a cost-saving device, it is also a critical public policy priority. People who lack health insurance often don't seek the preventive medical attention they need, such as pap smears or dental checkups, for example, that are too often taken for granted by those with adequate coverage.

On Tuesday, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released results of a study concluding that if parents are eligible to apply for coverage under already-existing government health care programs, it is more likely that their children will be covered as well. Also this week, the President's Council of Economic Advisers issued a report showing that the best way to extend coverage to uninsured families is not by tax credits or deductions, as the Republicans have proposed, but by expanding existing programs such as Medicaid and CHIP to include parents. (The Children's Health Insurance Program was created in 1997 to insure the children of working families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but who can't afford private insurance on their own.)

In Oregon, Hawaii and Tennessee -- states that, in 1994, expand ed Medicaid to include parents -- coverage of eligible children age 6 and younger rose from 51 percent in 1990 to 67 percent in 1998. In states that didn't expand their programs, the proportion of children insured increased by only three percentage points. Since 1998, nine states and the District of Columbia have jumped on the bandwagon, expanding their Medicaid programs to cover more low-income families.

On Capitol Hill, members of Congress are considering federal legislation that would expand coverage. Unfortunately, lawmakers disagree on the best approach, with Republicans in favor of providing tax breaks to increase the reach of health care programs, and Democrats anxious to expand eligibility under existing programs.

This administration has worked hard to extend health insurance coverage to poor children through Medicaid and CHIP. However, millions of children remain uninsured, many because their parents simply don't know these programs exist.

Thanks to eight years of fiscal discipline and careful investments in important national priorities, we have the funds today to cover the neediest 25 percent of the 44 million Americans without health insurance. It is time for members of Congress to listen and to act. The American people will go along with sensible tax cuts, but in exchange they want leaders who will protect our prosperity, not squander our future.

To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.


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