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Clinton Gets Back on His Health Care Hobbyhorse

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In the final two years of its tenure, the Clinton administration is coming full circle on some policy matters it dropped when the going got tough. On Tuesday, news leaked out that the President intends to return to an old favorite issue -- health care -- with a proposal next month to provide prescription drug coverage to all Medicare beneficiaries. Though many of the details remain to be worked out, the new coverage would be funded by a small premium imposed on Medicare beneficiaries and by savings expected from the hiring of private companies to buy medicines in bulk for the program.

This is a proposal likely to have much popular appeal, says TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan, one that not only lays out a Democratic campaign strategy but also presents an issue that could be part of the Presidentĺs legacy. "One of seniors' biggest complaints has been the escalating costs of drugs," says Branegan. "And this is a big issue too for baby boomers, who must deal with aging parents and also anticipate their own retirement." From the earliest days of Clintonĺs original health care proposals, pharmaceutical companies have steadfastly opposed any government price controls on drugs. "By relying instead on the market controls of mass purchasing power," says Branegan, "the administration hopes to bring drug companies on board and blunt Republican objections." The Clinton proposals are unlikely to be enacted before the end of his term because they open up so many questions about the long-term financial viability of Medicare. But, says Branegan, "they are a way to take Medicare into the 2000 campaign and give Democrats momentum on an issue that usually plays well for the party."