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Executive Summary

HHS' MEDICARE CATASTROPHIC HEALTH CARE COVERAGE INITIATIVE may push the issue to the top of Chairman Kennedy's (D-Mass.) Senate Labor & Human Resources Committee agenda when Congress returns next year. Kennedy has long advocated a national health insurance program and was expected to pursue legislatively some form of expanded federal health care coverage in the 100th Congress. HHS Secretary Bowen presented the department's proposal to the public at a Nov. 20 press conference before submitting the plan for White House review. The timing of the plan's release forces Kennedy's hand politically. First, he will have to take up the catastrophic coverage issue sooner in the new Congress than he otherwise may have wanted to. Secondly, Kennedy and other Democrats interested in health care coverage will be put in the position of reacting to a well publicized Administration initiative. Kennedy's staff may have to work overtime before the next Congress to craft a viable counter proposal to the Administration's plan. At the press conference, Bowen said catastrophic care protection for Medicare beneficiaries can be provided by raising Medicare Part B premiums by $4.92 per month. The proposal also would cap out-of-pocket expenses at $2,000 annually per beneficiary for services covered under both Medicare Part A and B. During his Senate confirmation hearings last year, Bowen proposed a plan that would have required monthly premiums of $12. That proposal was opposed within the Administration and by the insurance industry. The secretary presented an outline of the new proposal to the White House Domestic Policy Council on Nov. 19, but President Reagan had not seen it before the press briefing, Bowen said.

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