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Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company  
The Boston Globe

April 10, 1999, Saturday ,City Edition


LENGTH: 378 words

HEADLINE: Clinton blasts GOP on ties to health firms

BYLINE: Associated Press


   PHILADELPHIA - President Clinton yesterday portrayed Republicans as responsive to insurance and health-care companies, as Democrats launched an Internet petition drive to mobilize support for the "patients' bill of rights."

"The people who are against it - basically the large HMOs and the insurers - have got the ear of the congressional majority, and they have a lot of political influence," Clinton charged in a speech in one of Pennsylvania's most Democratic congressional districts.

Across the nation, House and Senate Democrats staged rallies and speeches in 32 states to ask Americans to raise their voices by petition for new health-care rights.

Republicans warned Democrats against trying to "poison" the health-care reform process with "partisan rhetoric and political gamesmanship."

The most controversial, and most expensive, provision sought by Democrats would give patients the right to sue health plans and collect damages when they withhold treatment.

A modest crowd of perhaps a couple of hundred people had to strain to hear Clinton because of poor acoustics in historic Memorial Hall, built for the 1876 Centennial World's Fair in Philadelphia.

But Clinton delighted the audience as he attempted to imitate Italian movie director Roberto Benigni's heavily accented lament in accepting a second Academy Award: "This is a terrible mistake, because I used up all my English." Clinton used the same language to say that earlier speakers had said all that needed to be said at Memorial Hall.

Responding to Clinton's speech, Republicans said they have been working hard with Democrats to come up with an acceptable HMO bill.

"If there's a way to make health care more accountable to patients without raising costs and limiting access, we have a responsibility to do it, and do it this year," said Ohio Representative John Boehner, chairman of the House employer-employee relations subcommittee.

GOP presidential hopeful Steve Forbes criticized Clinton for wanting "to pile on all kinds of new rules and regulations" that would drive up the cost of health care.

"When the trial lawyers say 'jump,' President Clinton and the liberal Democrats ask, 'How high?' " Republican National Committee chairman Jim Nicholson said.

GRAPHIC: President Clinton paused yesterday before outlining a plan to gather support for the "patients' bill of rights" in Philadelphia. / REUTERS PHOTO

LOAD-DATE: April 13, 1999

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