Moderate Health Reform Bill Likely

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: The Republican Congress will likely advance a moderate health reform bill this year that would allow portability of insurance coverage and outlaw the exclusion of people with pre- existing medical conditions, House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich said Sunday. The Ohio Republican said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that while many Republicans would like to include a provision for personal medical savings accounts in the bill, he would be willing to compromise on that aspect if it threatened to defeat the legislation. The approach Kasich described closely resembles a Senate proposal co-sponsored by Republican Senator Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas and Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. The Kennedy-Kassebaum bill is scheduled for a Senate vote in mid-April. Republican senators fear that their House counterparts will end up passing a bill that could not succeed in the Senate, and thereby endanger the G.O.P.'s plan to present President Clinton with a health reform bill before the November election. The Republican freshmen in the House would also like to limit malpractice awards and allow self-employed workers to deduct 50 percent of their health insurance premiums. The idea of tax breaks for personal medical savings accounts fits with conservative efforts to give individuals more control of their own coverage, and supporters say such accounts would appeal to healthy young people who do not currently carry insurance coverage. But opponents point out that the people who can afford such tax-favored savings plans are generally wealthy and healthy. If they utilized the savings accounts, that would leave poorer and sicker people in the insurance plans, thereby driving up insurance costs for the those who can least afford them.