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Health Insurance for 95% Will Satisfy Universal Coverage Goal

By Ann Devroy
The Washington Post

BOSTON

President Clinton said Tuesday that health insurance for 95 percent of all Americans would satisfy his long-standing goal of universal coverage.

Clinton, speaking to the National Governors Association, also said that he was not wedded to one of his plan's most divisive elements - the requirement that all employers pay most of the insurance bill for their workers, the so-called employer mandate.

Signaling his flexibility to a Congress struggling to write health care legislation, Clinton called for a "phased-in, deliberate effort" to provide insurance to all Americans and for the first time said he could accept coverage of "somewhere in the ballpark of 95 percent upwards."

Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole, R-Kan., who had addressed the governors immediately before Clinton, and Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, drew sharply divergent messages from the president's remarks that tended to reinforce their respective positions.

Dole, who opposes employer mandates, said he regarded the president's remarks as a significant shift in position. "Apparently he's now willing to drop his demand for employer mandates," Dole told reporters after senators' weekly caucus luncheons.Mitchell, who supports employer mandates, said he understood Clinton to "say what he's said before - that mandates are the most efficient way to assure universal coverage but he is willing to consider alternatives."

The Finance Committee is alone among the four committees that passed health bills in rejecting the mandate.

In the House, where support for the employer payment is stronger, proponents of comprehensive reform said the president may simply be trying to find a way to achieve universal coverage.