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HALT THE HEADLONG PLUNGE TOWARD HEALTH-CARE FOLLY

SHARE HALT THE HEADLONG PLUNGE TOWARD HEALTH-CARE FOLLY

A few days ago this page urged Congress to go slow in acting on the brand new health reform bills designed to replace the spurned Clinton initiative.

We did so largely because there simply isn't enough time for Congress to do a good job of weighing the pros and cons of such big and complex measures before the November elections - a deadline the lawmakers clearly have in mind.Though this advice has fallen on deaf ears, its wisdom is becoming increasingly apparent.

For one thing, the economy has improved so much that fewer and fewer Americans are worried about losing their jobs - and with them their health insurance.

No wonder that recent polls show 65 per cent of the public now think Congress should hold health-care reforms over until at least next year.

For another thing, the new health-care bills are getting scathingly bad reviews from independent, outside study groups as well as from the very research organization that Congress itself set up to pass judgment on such matters.

This week Knight-Ridder News Service quoted a variety of private accounting firms and non-partisan, non-profit study centers as saying the two main health reform bills moving through Congress would end current tax breaks for employee health insurance, add taxes on health insurance premiums and, in the Senate version, slap a 3 percent income tax hike on many small firms.

At the same time, the Congressional Budget Office warned that the Senate leadership's bill would increase the federal deficit $9 billion by the turn of the century.

The CBO, which Congress created to give it independent economic analysis and forecasting, also found the bill difficult if not impossible for individual states to implement.

The bill's proposed tax on health-care plans whose benefit costs exceeded certain levels could increase the cost of insurance so much that some people would drop their coverage.

Moreover, the CBO continued, the provision mandating employer-provided insurance only in states not voluntarily reaching 95 percent coverage by the year 2000 would cause firms to move across state lines to avoid the payment.

If Congress proceeds in the face of such appalling findings, it can do so only by putting the desire for political grandstanding ahead of common sense and the public interest.

By all means, some reforms are still in order - eventually. This nation's health care is prohibitively expensive, eating up one-seventh of the gross domestic product while leaving some Americans without medical insurance.

Even so, it would be sheer folly to pass legislation that would not help, and likely would hurt, just so the White House and the leadership of Congress can bask in false political glory in November.