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CONGRESSIONAL PANELS CRAFT RIVAL HEALTH PLANS

The makings of a Democratic collision on health care unfolded Thursday as a House subcommittee began work on a liberal health-care plan similar to the one offered by President Clinton.

At the same time, a senior Republican member of the Senate Finance Committee said that panel is likely to produce a "centrist," bipartisan measure.

As described by Sen. John Chafee, R-R.I., this legislation probably will not require that health insurance be purchased through regional alliances, and will not mandate that all employers arrange for health care for their workers.

In a luncheon briefing with reporters, Chafee acknowledged the committee, headed by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., is having difficulty working out details about portability. That is the feature of the Clinton program that would require insurers to provide coverage for pre-existing illnesses.

Chafee has sponsored a bill that would cap Medicaid spending and require that all individuals buy health insurance by the year 2005, providing subsidies to help the working poor pay their premiums.

Chafee said the Finance Committee's bill may clash with a more liberal one being drafted by the Senate Labor Committee, headed by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.

But he predicted Senate passage before the July 4 recess.

Chafee predicted the committee will produce a bipartisan consensus on the legislation capable of carrying an overwhelming majority in the panel and the full Senate. The Kennedy and Moynihan committees share jurisdiction on the health-care issue.

Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, has not decided which one will play the lead role.

"The matter is unresolved," said Brian Connolly, Moynihan's press secretary. "To this day, no (health-care bill) has been referred to committee."

Chafee defiantly predicted the entire Senate will go along with Moynihan and the Finance Committee.

"The Senate as a whole looks on the Finance Committee as more centrist than the labor committee," Chafee said, noting that his panel includes both the Senate majority and minority leaders.

The House Education and Labor Committee's Labor-Management Relations subcommittee began marking up a bill similar to Clinton's, but without its controversial mandatory alliances and with expanded benefits for women and larger subsidies for small business.

Meanwhile, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, proposed further concessions to small businesses to win support from Democrats on his panel.

Dingell is circulating a scaled-down version of the Clinton plan that would exempt all businesses with 10 or fewer employees from having to pay for their health insurance.

Dingell said Wednesday that he would try to kill a Clinton proposal that would set up an advisory council on the "reasonableness" of prices of breakthrough drugs.

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