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Sen. Clinton Discloses Plan for Health Care


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton unveiled the final piece of her health plan yesterday in Iowa. It's the portion, she says, would guarantee insurance to all Americans. Like former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, Clinton would require all Americans to have health insurance. And like Illinois Senator Barack Obama, Clinton would build on the existing health care system.

But as NPR's Julie Rovner reports, when it comes to health care, the stakes are higher for Clinton than for her rivals.

JULIE ROVNER: Speaking at a medical center in Des Moines, Clinton at first sounded like the first lady who unsuccessfully tried to push her husband's plan a decade and a half ago.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Nominee): We can talk all we want about freedom and opportunity, about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but what does all that mean to a mother or father who can't take a sick child to the doctor?

ROVNER: But she also talked about what she's learned in her seven years in the Senate, how to get along with those she might not agree with in order to get things done, even if they're relatively small steps like getting prescription drugs tested on children or getting better health insurance for members of the National Guard and Reserve.

Sen. CLINTON: I know that reforming health care takes a consensus for change. That's what I've been doing, building that consensus vote by vote, working to bring people together to get my colleagues from across the aisle to join our cause.

ROVNER: Those two different Clintons, one for whom compromise was anathema and the other for whom it's become a badge of honor, have created two very different views of the candidate among Democratic voters as well. That was evident Sunday night at Iowa Senator Tom Harkin's annual steak fry in Indianola. Take Carolyn Allen(ph, who's retired from the airline industry. When asked what she thought when she heard the words Hillary Clinton and health care, here's how she replied.

Ms. CAROLYN ALLEN (Resident, Iowa): I think if anybody gets it through, Hillary will get it through, because I think it's really important. She tried before and I think she'll keep working on it, I do, if there's any way possible.

ROVNER: But there were also people like retired nurse Collette Mahoney(ph).

Ms. COLETTE MAHONEY (Retired Nurse; Resident, Iowa): I'd say she's kind Of- if I'm correct, maybe she'll still go to the insurance companies and the drug companies. She wouldn't be my choice.

ROVNER: It's her long history with the issues, says Bob Blendon of the Harvard School of Public Health, that makes health care so important for Hillary Clinton.

Dr. ROBERT BLENDON (Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Harvard School of Public Health): The other candidate just starting anew - saying, you know, I've come to this issue, I don't have a record but I can move ahead. She had a major failure and now has to argue that she's got the experience to bring the country together to make something happen.

ROVNER: But while Clinton is proud of her Senate record, working with conservative Republicans like Newt Gingrich on computerized medical records, for example, Blendon says that may not be so helpful with Democratic primary voters.

Dr. BLENDON: To many Democrats, she has become too pragmatic, too reaching out the interest groups, too concerted and cautious.

ROVNER: Then again, he says, she faces an even bigger peril if she wins the Democratic nomination.

Dr. BLENDON: For many independent voters that would be critical in the general election, they still remember the person who led this HillaryCare disaster even though probably most voters don't remember what the plan was, and that's going to be her problem with the new proposal.

ROVNER: And while it may look more moderate and more simple than the 1990s version he says...

Dr. BLENDON: For her opponents in the Republican Party, they're just going to call it HillaryCare and say it's the same thing as it was in 1992, and so she's got to convince voters she has a much more pragmatic, doable approach that could actually bring people together and solve this problem, and it's not just the replay of the old movie.

ROVNER: Republicans, however, are already buying the popcorn. Even before Clinton's speech, former Massachusetts Republican Governor Mitt Romney called it a, quote, "European-style socialized medicine plan." Ironic, given that what Clinton's plan is based on most is the one put in place in Massachusetts when Romney was governor.

Julie Rovner, NPR News.

INSKEEP: For more details of Hillary Clinton's health care proposal, go to npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.