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Clinton Renewing Health Care Push

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Clinton plans to meet with House and Senate negotiators on Monday to find out what is preventing them from writing a bill to regulate health plans. Advocates pledged today to step up their lobbying efforts next week.

``There have been enough delays,'' Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala said. ``At the meeting, we hope to find out what the final issues are and what we can do to make sure that we get a very strong patients' bill of rights ready for a vote very soon.''

Shalala, Labor Secretary Alexis Herman and John Podesta, White House chief of staff, met for an hour-long strategy session at the White House today and expressed frustration that Congress has been working on the issue for three years without success.

``We are fed up,'' said John Crosby, executive director of the American Osteopathic Association. ``We want to see action in the conference this month and we are prepared to activate our entire membership and the patients we serve to get that message to Capitol Hill and anybody else who will listen.''

The conference committee has been working for more than 10 weeks to combine House- and Senate-passed versions of a bill giving Americans more rights when dealing with managed care organizations and other health plans. The negotiators, who had set an April 23 deadline for delivering a bill to Clinton, have agreed on several provisions, but still must tackle the most contentious issues.

Gayle Osterberg, a spokeswoman for Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., who chairs the conference committee, could not be immediately reached for comment.

The two bills — a bipartisan House bill and a Republican-crafted Senate bill — have many similarities, including provisions that would make it easier for patients to see specialists, give patients the right to appeal to an outside panel when coverage is denied and allow patients to use out-of-plan hospitals in emergencies.

But the two bills differ greatly on two key issues — whether patients should be allowed to sue plans if they are harmed when care is denied and who should be covered by the federal law.

The House bill, supported by Democrats and many Republicans, allows lawsuits and covers all Americans who have private insurance — about 161 million people. The Senate bill doesn't allow lawsuits and covers only those people whose health plans are exempt from state regulations — about 55 million.
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