Who Really Caused the Health-Care Debacle of '93?

Hillary Clinton's much-publicized failure to lead an overhaul of the U.S. health-care system in 1993, while she was first lady, has been an albatross around her neck. It is usually not acknowledged that President Bill Clinton was largely responsible for the plan.

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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has made health care one of the top political issues this week. And NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr says she's been able to set the record straight about her history with the issue.

DANIEL SCHORR: In Iowa, on Monday, unveiling her proposal for universal employer-based health insurance, Senator Clinton said she had learned the hard way how not to get such a program enacted. All these 13 years, Mrs. Clinton has worn Hillary care as an albatross around her neck - the chair of President Clinton's task force on health insurance, responsible for the disaster, had opened the way for the insurance companies to sink their plan as too involved with government controls.

Now, it appears that the first lady suffered a bum rap. In the current issue of a liberal magazine, American Prospect, Paul Starr, who was a senior policy adviser to the task force, says the basic decisions that led to the debacle were President Clinton's. According to Starr, Mrs. Clinton was not involved when her husband, campaigning for president in 1992, settled on a proposal for universal health insurance based on competing health plans and consumer choice from private health plans.

By the time the first lady was designated as chair of the task force five days after the inauguration, the plan was pretty well set. From then on, says Starr, President Clinton maintained control of the policymaking process. Mrs. Clinton was an active force, but there never was any doubt that it was the president who was in charge. In a meeting with Starr, she referred to: my husband's plan. When an effort to include the plan in the budget failed, Mr. Clinton said, this is entirely my mistake and no one else's, conceding that, I set up the Congress for failure.

The liberal editor of Atlantic Magazine, Jim Fallows, wrote that the plan hatched in secret was delivered too late and got bogged down. Mr. Clinton's idea was to submit an ambitious plan to Congress and then reach compromises with the Republicans. Mrs. Clinton said, every time we moved towards them, they moved away. Now, running for president, Senator Clinton lets it be known that she didn't screw up. Her husband did. And the myth of Hillary care is just that. A myth.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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