Health insurance should be easier to obtain and keep under a law signed Wednesday by President Clinton - a step he said that “seals the cracks that swallow as many as 25 million Americans” who can’t get insurance or can’t change jobs for fear of losing it.
Republicans said the legislation could have been enacted three years ago if not for his veto threats.
The new law offers far less than the universal coverage that Clinton sought early in his presidency, but it is still a significant step that won near-unanimous approval in Congress.
It was the second in a trio of bill signings intended to help the incumbent Democrat ride into his party’s nominating convention next week on a high note.
Clinton signed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 during a ceremony on the White House lawn.
The legislation prevents the loss or denial of insurance coverage due to pre-existing medical conditions.
Republicans called Wednesday’s enactment their victory, something that would have happened long ago if he had not insisted on much broader legislation that failed.
“The American people know that President Clinton’s advocacy of an overdose of government control on health care was presidential malpractice,” said Republican nominee Bob Dole. “They should exercise their right to a second opinion on Election Day.”
The health care law drew generous praise from health professionals and insurers alike, although some advocates worried that it did little to make coverage more affordable.
This bill, plus the minimum wage increase he signed Tuesday and a welfare overhaul bill to be signed today, are meant to build momentum for Clinton heading into next week’s Democratic National Convention.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: KEY PROVISIONS The law signed by President Clinton: Guarantees that a person who currently has insurance through work can change jobs without fear of losing coverage, even if he or a family member has a chronic illness. Allows a person who leaves a job for self-employment, or for a job without insurance, to purchase an individual policy, after exhausting benefits under the COBRA law. The COBRA law allows a former employee to remain on their companies’ health plan for 18 months after departing. Requires insurance firms that offer small-group plans in a particular state, for companies with two to 50 workers, to sell a policy to any small employer in that state who applies. No employee in the group can be charged more or denied coverage because of poor health. Increases a self-employed person’s income tax deduction for insurance costs from 30 percent this year to 40 percent next year, to 45 percent from 1998 through 2002, and to 80 percent by 2006. Along with workers at small companies, the self-employed will be eligible for tax-free medical savings accounts. Allows tax deductions for the cost of long-term care, at home or in a nursing home. As with other medical bills, expenses exceeding 7.5 percent of income are deductible. The law also permits penalty-free IRA withdrawals for medical expenses exceeding 7.5 percent of income. Allows employers to provide long-term care insurance as a tax-free benefit, the same as standard insurance. A self-employed person can deduct long-term care premiums. Allows a terminally ill person who cashes in or sells his life insurance policy to get the money tax-free, clarifying the current confused situation. And a chronically ill person can cash in or sell a policy to pay for long-term care.