President Carter met with top labor officials and the Senate's leading proponent of national health insurance yesterday and agreed on the broad principles and timing of the administration's legislative package, according to participants.
The hour-long meeting brought together Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), AFL CIO president George Meany, United Auto Workers president Doug Fraser and Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Josehy A. Califano Jr. They emerged with "general agreement" on principles if not details, Kennedy told reporters.
Kennedy ticked off such principles as comprehansive benefits, universal coverage, a role for private insurance companies, assurance of quality control, a research development fund for health delivery, and prospective budgeting.
Propective budgement, which entails setting for hospitals and physcian care in advance rather than paying costs after the fact, is widely advocated as one means of holding down rapidly rising madical costs. One participant said propective budgeting was "clearly controversial," and "there will be some discussion."
Agreement on a substantial role for private insurance companies represents a major shift for Kennedy and labor.
White House participants said afterward that Carter had agreed "broadly" to the general thrust of what Kennedy said during the meeting, but that desicions on detailshad not yet been made by the president.
The real import both to White House participants and to representatiives from outside, was that Carter reaffirmed his intention to send a national health package to Congress in time to be debated during the 1978 election campaign.
"There's some anxiety about whether the administration is serious about national health insurance," one White House participant said afterwards. "If it was important for people to be reassured that the administration was committed or about the depth of the commitment, it was an important meeting."
Fraser, who has been publicly and privately prodding Carter to fulfill an election campaign promise to support national health insurance, said he was "satisfied" that Carter is "working very hard on it."
Kennedy said that his Senate health subcommittee is prepared to hold hearings on the administration's bill in July and August and that he had been assured "we're on schedule."