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  •   Bradley Raises Medicare Means Test

    By Dan Balz
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, April 29, 1999; Page A8

    Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley said this week that the country should explore the use of a means test for Medicare recipients as one way to help ensure the financially troubled program's future solvency.

    Outlining his views on health care before the New York Academy of Medicine on Tuesday night, Bradley stopped short of a formal proposal for reforming the program that provides health insurance for elderly Americans regardless of income.

    But for purposes of discussion, he said, "We should focus on the financial health of the Medicare program by exploring what it would mean to have a sliding-scale contribution, based on people's ability to pay, that supplements the public funding."

    The former New Jersey senator did not elaborate, but the idea appeared to be similar to elements of a Medicare plan approved by the Senate in the last Congress. The plan was not enacted into law.

    But in raising the issue, Bradley, the lone rival to Vice President Gore for the Democratic nomination, could open himself to criticism from some Democratic constituencies who oppose the use of a means test for what long has been a major entitlement program.

    In the speech, Bradley deplored the fact that 44 million Americans lack health insurance and said he would make universal coverage a top priority in a Bradley presidency.

    "We should move from universal care to universal coverage," Bradley said, according to a transcript of his remarks provided by his office yesterday. "We should commit to the goal that every American has health care insurance and we will not back away from that, no matter how challenging it will be to find the best means to get there, even if it is phased in."

    Bradley said the Clinton administration's failed health care plan, which died in Congress in 1994, "gave new meaning to the words 'politics,' 'complexity' and 'detail.' In 1994, common ground seemed to fall away under the weight of self interest."

    In another veiled criticism of both the Clinton administration and the Republican-controlled Congress, Bradley also said the "small ideas and random incrementalism of recent years" will not accomplish the goal of providing quality health care to all Americans.

    Bradley advisers played down the speech, saying it was not intended to be a major policy address on health care. "This is not a statement of policy," said Eric Hauser, Bradley's spokesman.

    Bradley said the "imaginative use of new technologies" and other efforts could save $250 billion to $300 billion annually in the nation's health care bill. Providing universal coverage, he added, would cost $55 billion annually.

    "We should step out of the old box that says either we raise taxes or cut benefits in order to control costs," he added.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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