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News briefs, part 2

Clinton Backs Gun-Control Efforts

The Washington Post


President Clinton Monday chided the National Rifle Association for opposing gun-control efforts in Virginia and New Jersey and he pledged to work for "sensible" controls at the national level.

Clinton, in New Jersey to promote his national service program, made the comments, his most extensive on the subject of gun control, in an exchange with local reporters. New Jersey Gov. Jim Florio, a Democrat who is up for re-election this year, is locked in a battle with the Republican legislature over his efforts to preserve the toughest controls in the nation on assault weapons.

Clinton said the country "can't be so fixated on our desire to preserve the rights of ordinary Americans to legitimately own handguns and rifles ... that we are unable to think about the reality" of unsafe streets and violence throughout the country. "I hope the leadership of the National Rifle Association will go back to doing what it did when I was a boy" -- providing information about hunting and safety rather than fighting gun-control proposals like those here and in Virginia, he said.

He said it was "an error" for the NRA to "oppose every attempt to bring some safety and some rationality into the way we handle some of the serious criminal problems we have" and said efforts in Virginia and New Jersey "do not unduly affect the right to keep and bear arms. It's not going to kill anybody to wait a couple of days to get a handgun while we do a background check," he said.

Clinton recounted a case of an acquaintance in Arkansas who sold a gun to a man who used it to kill several people and said the man regretted his action when it was discovered the gun-buyer was mentally ill. Waiting to check on the backgrounds of gun purchasers, he said, would prevent such tragedies.

Employers' Health Cost Rise Slows

The Washington Post

The cost to employers of providing health care increased in 1992 at the slowest rate in five years as companies restricted access to doctors and spread more of the cost to employees, according to a study released Monday.

The annual Foster Higgins survey of employer health care costs shows employer costs rose 10.1 percent last year to an average $3,968 per employee, nearly double the level five years ago. The survey is the largest in the nation, covering 2,448 companies and 13 million workers.

Since 1987, employer health care costs have been rising at an average annual rate of 14.9 percent among companies included in the survey.

The moderating rise in health care costs nationwide reflected a significant shift in the types of health insurance programs offered to employees, and continuing cost sharing as companies scrambled to reduce costs.

For the first time since Foster Higgins began conducting its survey in 1987, the majority of employees surveyed are no longer covered by the traditional health insurance arrangements -- "indemnity plans" that guarantee to cover treatment regardless of cost.

The latest survey comes as the Clinton administration is working to develop a national health care plan before the end of May. The administration has said it is looking at a "managed competition" approach that would begin to wean the nation away from the traditional plans that defined health insurance coverage during much of the post-World War II era.

Cost increases were significantly less under various "managed care" health plans such as health maintenance organizations (HMOs), where care is provided at a designated clinic, or preferred provider organizations (PPOs), where an employer contracts with doctors and hospitals to provide service at specific costs. The 1992 increases were 8.8 percent for HMOs and 10.5 percent for PPOs.

"More than three-fourths (77 percent) of employers offered at least one type of managed care to employees in 1992, vs. 73 percent in 1991," Foster Higgins reported. Perhaps more important for employees, the report showed that 30 percent of the companies surveyed did not offer employees an indemnity plan for health care.

Congress Offers Revisions Of Clinton's Economic Plan

The Washington Post


The White House Monday opened the door to congressional revisions of President Clinton's economic plan and budget. A senior official told reporters such changes "inevitably" would occur, but vowed that Clinton would oppose any rewriting that destroyed the fundamental character of his plan.

The official also told reporters that Clinton had not ruled out joining his planned health care reforms to the economic stimulus and deficit-cutting package he outlined last month, but the official said it was not certain the medical plan would be ready in time. Regardless of whether the two proposals are joined in a single massive package, the official said prospects are improving for enactment of major health reforms this year.

Also Monday, two economists who support Clinton's economic proposals testified that the administration may be overestimating by as much as $75 billion over four years the plan's potential for reducing the deficit.

Allen Sinai, chief economist for Boston Company Economic Advisors, and Lawrence Chimerine, senior economic counselor with DRI/McGraw-Hill, said the administration's projections may not take into account such factors as changes in economic behavior brought on by a major tax increase.

"Tax receipts may be overestimated as the private sector scrambles to avoid paying the higher taxes, some spending reductions might be limited by Congress or not likely to be affected and the spending increases might run over estimates," Sinai told the House Budget Committee.

According to Sinai, Clinton's plan for net deficit reduction of $325 billion over four years could fall short by $50 billion to $75 billion. Chimerine said the shortfall might be somewhat less.

Sinai also warned that Clinton's proposals for tax increases and spending cuts could in the "intermediate term" produce net losses in economic growth and jobs.

The administration official's comments on legislative strategy came as the White House sought to address objections to specifics of the plan from some Democratic senators.