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Clinton extends health protection to soldiers, federal workers

President Clinton established a "bill of rights" today for people enrolled in federal health-care programs and urged private insurers to follow the example. He said a third of all Americans will now be covered by the protections.

"We must not stop here," Clinton said as he signed an executive order extending protection to more than 80 million federal employees, enlisted soldiers, veterans and American Indians.The order - signed Friday at a senior citizens center in suburban Wheaton, Md. - extends to this group the same essential protections that Congress gave last year to the elderly and others covered by Medicare and Medicaid.

"With the authority of the federal government, we will assure that a third of all Americans are protected," Clinton said.

Clinton is following up his appeal to private industry to voluntarily assure the same protections with legislation that would put the force of law behind his appeal.

"I know there will be voices of opposition in the Congress and the health care industry," he said. But, he added, "We need to be clear and unambiguous."

Clinton's order establishes a set of minimum standards for patient care, including:

- Direct access to medical specialists for patients with serious conditions.

- Emergency room visits paid for if the visit was deemed necessary by a "prudent layperson," even if it turned out nothing was wrong.

- Right of appeal to an outside panel for any denial of medical coverage.

- Disclosure by health plans, doctors and hospitals of a wealth of information about their services.

Clinton was expected to ask Congress to pass legislation that would provide the same rights to Americans covered by private health care plans. Such a measure - the only way to force the private sector into complying - would enact stronger regulations on the health insurance industry.