President Carter's special assistant for health issues said yesterday that a detailed national health insurance program would not go to Congress until late this year, but his prediction was disputed by Carter's chief domestic political adviser.
Dr. Peter Bourne, Carter's health advisor, made his prediction at a breakfast with reporters. But angry reactions from surprised labor leaders and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), the chief congressional supporter of national health insurance, and a statement from Stuart E. Eizenstat, head of the White House domestic policy staff, that "there has been no decision' on a delivery date for 'Carters' program, forced Bourne to back away
What it seemed to add up to was an administration still far from agreed on either the form of its health plan or its timing, which only last month seemed more certain.
A strong administration effort to put an annual limit on hospital cost inflation is now bogged down in Congress, long with several other pieces of administration health legisltion.
And another administration official said many congressmen who oncee sympathized with labor's aim to make national health insurance a fall election issue have changed their minds.
"I think a lot of people want to wait until after the election," he said. "I think a lot of people are nervous now with Proposition 13 and inflation around."
Bourne told reporters that the administration wants to unveil its plan when it can "maintain major momentum" for it, and "obviously the middle of the summer is not the time."
"I think both labor and Kennedy feel that our present thinking" on timing "is about as fast" as things should go, he said.
A Kennedy spokesman promptly called Bourne's statements "completely inaccurate." And Steve Schlossberg, Washington representative of the United Auto Workers, the union most strongly behind expanded health insurance, said, "The UAW has'nt made any deal to put it off. The UAW still expects it to come out this summer."
In late afternoon Bourne explained "I didn't mean to imply any date had been set, but it well may not be until November, it may be earlier."
What Bourne and the others all were talking about were the specifies of the administration plan, which are to be preceded by a set of health insurance "principles."
Slated now to be disclosed by the president late this month, these principles too have been delayed again and again. In part this has reflected a quarrel between administration economic officials-who would like to see only a limited health plan, costing as little as possible-and Eizenstat and most health officials, who favor a "comprehensive" plan that would ultimately cover all Americans.
The president's principles will assure Americans a comprehensive plan "phased in" over "five to 10 years" starting in 1982 or 1983, assuming Congress approves it in 1980, Bourne said.
The principles, at any rate, are "in fact completed now, or in an almost completed final stage," Bourne said.
But Eizenstat said one of the most crucial points-whether or not to specify some method of "triggering in" future elements of the plan only when economic conditions permit-has not been decided.
But he, Eizenstat and other officials made it clear that the principles will not specify whether the plan should start with federally assured insurance for the poor, or for children, or for the catastrophically ill. Nor will they specify a precise method of controlling hospital bills or medical fees, or say just how closely the government should regulate private health insurers who will continue to insure most Americans.
The principles, at any rate, are "in fact completed now, or in almost completed final stage,Bourne said.
But Eizenstat said one of the most crucial points - whether or not to specify some method of "triggering in" future elements of the plan only when economic conditions permit has not been decided.