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Young, Healthy May Pay More under Clinton Health Plan

By Paul Richter
Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON

President Clinton, inaugurating his massive health reform promotional campaign with hard luck tales from the system's victims, acknowledged that even his plan would have short term "losers" -- among them the young and the healthy.

In an emotional Rose Garden gathering that Clinton said would "put a human face" on a complex issue, the president and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton commiserated with 15 Americans who have suffered family separations, wrecked careers and declining living standards because of the health-care system's inequities.

But as he promised that only sweeping reform could remedy their problems, Clinton also stressed -- as he never has before -- that such improvement would not come without costs.

"I don't want to pretend this is all going to be easy," Clinton said, pointing out that some of the young and healthy would pay "slightly more" for the standard health care package the government would guarantee. He added later, at a separate event in northeast Washington with small-business owners: "In the short run, we can't make 100 percent of the people winners."

Clinton's shift in tone came as analysts warned that the public might sour on the plan if it doubts the administration's contention that squeezing waste from the health care system will broaden health benefits without major financial sacrifices from any group.

The Rose Garden event, a prelude to Clinton's formal unveiling of the health plan before Congress on Wednesday, was calculated to begin a complicated promotional campaign with an event of maximum emotional impact. And by several signs, it succeeded: Several of the letter-writers choked up as the discussion progressed, and the normally reserved Mrs. Clinton became tearful several times as cancer victims, grieving parents and imperiled workers told their tales.

Even some of Clinton's critics agreed that the setting played to his strengths, particularly his ability to convey through his words and body language that he cares about ordinary Americans.

"He's very very good at this stuff," said Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster who opposes the Clinton plan.

The gathering, held under a white tent in the Rose Garden because of soggy Washington weather, was begun shortly after 8 a.m., so television stations across the country could show portions during the morning TV news shows. It marked the first time the president and Mrs. Clinton, his chief health care adviser, have presided jointly over a policy event since the inauguration. Vice President Al Gore and his wife Tipper also joined them.