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Congressmen Wary About Sections of Health Plan : Legislation: Waxman questions modifications adopted by the President. Moorhead says some changes don’t go far enough.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

President Clinton need look no further than two of the San Fernando Valley area’s key lawmakers to appreciate the hurdles faced by the sweeping health care plan that he sent to Capitol Hill this week.

Approaching the proposal from opposite ends of the political spectrum, Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Carlos J. Moorhead (R-Glendale) both expressed serious reservations after Clinton delivered the ambitious 1,300-page bill to Congress on Wednesday.

Modifications that Clinton adopted from his initial approach in a bid to appeal to moderate lawmakers raised new concerns for the liberal Waxman.

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The conservative Moorhead, meanwhile, said some changes are steps in the right direction but don’t go nearly far enough.

But at the same time, the lawmakers’ reactions also reflect the widely shared expectation that some version of health care reform will be enacted next year. Waxman is a co-sponsor of the measure and continues to endorse Clinton’s goals, while Moorhead pledges to try to change the bill rather than flatly oppose it.

Waxman, whose 29th District includes Valley communities in the Santa Monica Mountains, began hearings Thursday on the measure before the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health and environment that he chairs. Moorhead, the ranking Republican on Energy and Commerce, participated as an ex officio member of the subcommittee.

Expressing his “strong support” for Clinton’s overall effort to enact health care reform, Waxman emphasized that lawmakers must heed the President’s admonition that “when we are done, universal, affordable coverage is a reality for all.” But, he cautioned, “low-wage workers and those outside the work force must be assisted with the purchase of coverage, and small businesses that do not currently offer coverage must have help.”

Waxman, who has worked to expand Medicaid coverage during the past decade, expressed opposition in an interview to a provision that caps subsidies to low-income individuals and small businesses. In a bid to show that the new health-care entitlement would not be a blank check, Clinton included this proposal to force Congress to raise taxes, increase premiums or reduce health benefits if the ceiling is exceeded.

“I think they made a very serious mistake,” Waxman said. “The idea of an entitlement is that you can count on the money. But if we run out of money because their projections of costs were inaccurate, then the promise may not be kept.”

In addition, Waxman said he remained concerned about proposed reductions in the rate of increase for Medicare even though the Administration slashed the original cost-sharing requirement for low-income people to $2 per doctor visit from the earlier figure of $10.

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“I question whether Medicare will be funded sufficiently in the future for the elderly and disabled to get the same access and quality of care they are now receiving,” Waxman said.

The veteran lawmaker said he remained concerned about the entire funding scheme because it depends heavily on Medicare reductions. Instead, he said he would prefer “a small income tax increase” or other tax hike to pay for comprehensive benefits for all Americans.

Overall, he acknowledged that his first choice was a single-payer, Canadian-style system but he reiterated that Clinton’s general approach “outshines all the other proposals.”

Moorhead, meanwhile, said he was not persuaded that the Administration’s financing plan is creditable despite the proposed subsidy caps, delays in implementation and other cost-saving measures. Moreover, he predicted that the proposal could lead to rationing of care.

“The things that concern me most are the financing scheme and the creation of a massive new entitlement program,” Moorhead said. “Many of the White House assumptions have been criticized as unrealistic.”

In addition, he called the proposed Medicare and Medicaid cuts “Draconian” and questioned whether the projected savings in these programs would be realized. And he challenged the Administration’s contention that a combination of additional mandated health insurance costs and a proposed increase in the minimum wage won’t wipe out some small businesses.

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Moorhead said he favored a more modest approach to alleviate undisputed problems within the current system. He cited lowering administrative costs, reducing paperwork, prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and reforming the medical malpractice system.

Nonetheless, he applauded the conciliatory rhetoric of the President and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“Their comments that they’re willing to make changes and work on the thing are somewhat encouraging,” Moorhead said. “You go into negotiations. Fortunately, with some of the Democrats and most of the Republicans feeling some changes are necessary, maybe we can work out a plan that helps the American people.”

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