Clinton Proposes Medicare Cuts

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: As President Clinton prepares to present a balanced budget plan to Congress on February 6, he finds himself treading on ground that turned to quicksand for Newt Gingrich a year ago. Aides confirmed today that the President proposes to pare $100 billion over five years from Medicare and Medicaid by cutting reimbursements to hospitals, HMOs and doctors. Under the President's plan, spending for the two giant health care programs, which cover 75 million poor, disabled and elderly Americans, would not be allowed to grow faster than about 5 percent annually. "Clinton has to hit these big ticket items if he has any realistic chance of balancing the budget," says TIME Washington correspondent Jef McAllister. "Since Medicaid and Medicare have had big percentage increases in spending in recent years, this is not a revolutionary idea." That theory won't stave off gripes from the health care industry, from worried patients or from die-hard liberals in the President's own party. Fueling the fears of Medicare and Medicaid patients concerned that they will not be able to obtain health care when they need it, doctors and hospitals already are arguing that Clinton’s cuts would force them to curb some services, such as free prescription drugs and dental plans, or to raise premiums. Expect the President to be floating many more budget-cutting notions in the next month. He still has to find another $300 billion or so in order to fulfill his campaign promise to balance the budget by 2002.