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Target Health-Care Reform

I COMMEND President Clinton for bringing the issue of health-care reform to the forefront of public debate. But his speech last Wednesday night to Congress only marks the beginning of what must be a long and protracted review of his plan.

At the core of this review is the issue of how much we want the federal government to dictate every aspect of health care in the United States. In the final analysis, a health-care reform plan for this country must envision the government as a partner to the public, not as a manager: The very aspects of our nation's health care in need of repair are those currently managed by the federal government, namely Medicaid and Medicare.

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The Clinton administration envisions a powerful federal entity that will coordinate with state planning boards on the delivery of health care in the given state. Employees will receive their health care through a payment, or tax, on their companies that will be mandated. The revenues will flow to these state boards, which will decide what kind of coverage is adequate and will determine who the providers will be.

Whether it is a wage-based premium, payroll tax or any other form of tax, saddling employers with the cost is the surest way to lose jobs, slow the economy, and fail to solve the need to reform the health-care system. The National Federation of Independent Business and the National Restaurant Association estimate job losses under the Clinton plan would range from between 1 million and 3 million jobs over five years.

There is, however, an alternative to a government-run plan: an option that seeks to implement ``targeted reform'' to preserve the best elements of our existing system while working incrementally at areas needing reform. Under this plan, I believe we must:

* Ensure portability and greater access to health care.

* Make the users - the patients - more involved and accountable for their medical coverage.

* Work toward medical malpractice and tort reform.

* Engage in administrative reform.

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* Alter the antitrust provisions so that high-tech equipment and services can be shared among institutions.

* Review those people in my state of Georgia - and throughout the nation - who are uninsured so that we can gain a true understanding of who they are and whether they are denied access to health care.

I also believe that the public supports this targeted approach to reforming our health-care system.

On a national level, according to a CNN/USAToday/Gallup poll taken in May, more than 81 percent of the respondents are satisfied with their health insurance.

In Georgia, 88 percent of the citizens currently are insured, while 11 percent are not.

And when Georgians are asked whether they are willing to make certain changes in the current system to control health-care costs and provide health-insurance coverage for uninsured people, the results are telling: Only 32 percent are willing to limit their freedom to choose their doctor or hospital, while 66 percent are not; only 29 percent are willing to pay a larger share of health-care costs out of their own pockets, while 66 percent are not willing; and 71 percent are unwilling to pay more in federal income taxes, while 25 percent are.

If we put our minds to the true problems that exist in the health-care delivery system, we can strengthen what works, fix what is broken, and retain the superior quality of care this nation has come to expect. This is what the public wants, not another government-run program. The public is right.

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