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Administration Attacks Insurers In Fight Over Health-Care Reform

By Marilyn Milloy
Newsday

WASHINGTON

Hillary Rodham Clinton Monday promised a relentless fight with those who resist proposals to provide health coverage to every American, and again singled out the insurance industry as a prime target of administration attacks.

"If the forces arrayed against reform want a real battle in which their self-interest is exposed and their real agenda is made public, they'll get it because I think a lot is at stake," the first lady said in an interview with a group of reporters.

She made no apologies for her recent accusation that an insurance industry trade group was spreading lies in its advertising campaign against the administration's health-care plan. And Clinton responded, "Heavens no!" when asked whether she had succeeded in muzzling the trade group, the Health Insurance Association of America.

The trade group's executives have responded that the ads -- which suggest the administration proposal might bring health-care plans to ruin -- are accurate and raise important issues.

Clinton, who headed the task force that developed the administration plan, said Monday that her tough words were not meant to suggest the administration had retreated from its promise to work with all sides to come to a solution.

Yet she drew clear battle lines between the administration and other supporters of universal coverage and those, including some influential Democratic lawmakers, who have called for something less.

But even among those who share that basic aim, she said, "Our being open doesn't mean we will agree with them. That is not at all the same." She cited a litany of problems the administration sees with the moderate Republican and single-payer approaches to reaching universal coverage.

The first lady left room for movement, saying the administration would consider stretching the proposed five-year period for capping the rate of growth of insurance premiums.

She dismissed polls that have showed public support for the administration's plan waning, saying once the public understands the plan, the more popular it will be. "It's just a question of slowly and steadily and persistently getting information out to people," Clinton said.

But she seemed aware of the difficulty of combatting pervasive criticisms -- she called them "horror stories" -- about the complexity of the plan.

She argued that it actually involves less government regulation than the current system does.

"I have no doubt that the forces of the status quo will dig in their heels and do everything they can -- while praising the potential of reform -- trying to undermine it ever being enacted," she said.